Religious Counseling Students Can Turn Away LGBT Patients Says Michigan House

by Diana Denza

We’ve already learned that it’s pretty tough to be a woman in Michigan these days. But it turns out that vaginas aren’t the only thing that makes state lawmakers clutch their Bibles at night.

Last week, Michigan legislators were hard at work passing House Bill 5040, also known as “First Do Harm”. The bill would excuse religious students in the state from providing psychological services to those who don’t hold their personal moral values. This means that vulnerable LGBT students and women who have undergone abortions (among others) could be denied lifesaving counseling. Jesus would be so proud.

Officially titled the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act”, a segment of the bill reads:

“[A higher learning institution] shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.”

This means that some of us can be turned away in a time of need by the very people whose job it is to help others. For those of you who hadn’t caught the blogosphere debate back in 2009, Julea Ward was attending Eastern Michigan University for an American Counseling Association-approved masters degree in school counseling. The Huffington Post reports that she was booted from the program for refusing to provide services to a gay student, citing her Christian convictions and calling LGBT people “immoral”.

This type of refusal was a direct violation of the association’s Code of Ethics, which states that “In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law.”

I’m guessing that sometime in the near future, the Juleas of the world can turn away whomever they want with the citation of a Bible verse. House Bill 5040 passed through Michigan’s GOP-dominated House by a vote of 59-50 and will soon be mulled over by the Senate.

This presents obvious problems, including EMU officials’ fear that this legislation would prevent a number of public universities in Michigan from receiving accreditation. Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan, explained:

“To ask a university counseling program to permit a counselor in training to reject national standards for practice in the field they are being trained threatens the accreditation of that counseling program. To turn away a client based on their fitting any of the aforementioned categories does potentially irreversible damage to the client in need’s self-worth, stability, trust in the profession, and ultimately to their intrinsic ability to address personal challenges and heal.”

Is it just me, or are Michigan and Arizona in competition for the rightwing state of the year award? 

(Image via The Advocate)

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