You can always count on the Huffington Post to get hysterical. Last night — under a blaring headline that simply read “Hatewave” — it took aim at one of the more common-sense pieces of religious-liberty legislation ever proposed. The Tennessee legislature has passed a bill protecting from liability “counselors and therapists who refuse to counsel a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.”
In other words, Tennessee wants to protect counselors from being drafted into facilitating behaviors they find morally repugnant such as, for example, adulterous affairs, sexual promiscuity, or — yes — same-sex relationships. At first glance the bill seems superfluous. After all, who would want to be counseled by a therapist or counselor who believes your lifestyle is immoral? To paraphrase John Kasich, do we have to “write laws” for everything? Won’t the market sort this all out?
Rather than recognizing that teachers can’t compel students to engage in political advocacy, the professor accused her of a “Level 3” grievance (the university’s most serious academic offense). The department then subjected Emily to a Star Chamber–style political inquiry, where a panel of professors demanded to know whether she was a “sinner” and kept her from having a lawyer, an advocate, or even her own mother in the room. The panel convicted her of the offense and required her to change her beliefs as a condition of graduation.
One university official actually held it against Ward that she ‘communicated an attempt to maintain [her] belief system.’
The university, however, found her referral intolerable and subjected Julea to a “formal review,” accusing her of “imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals” and of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Once again, a student was summoned to the Star Chamber, and once again public officials probed a private citizen’s religious beliefs. One university official actually held it against her that she “communicated an attempt to maintain [her] belief system.” She was expelled from the program just weeks before graduation.
To be clear, these students and counselors weren’t engaged in sexual-orientation discrimination. They’d happily counsel an LGBT person through a work conflict, bankruptcy, or personal loss, for example, but they would not counsel any person — gay or straight — in a manner that facilitated immoral actions. Indeed, there is a longstanding professional ethical practice of referral when a client’s values conflict with their counselor’s. Otherwise, as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in Julea’s case, absurdities result:
Surely, for example, the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion (1) does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct if the conversation takes a turn in that direction and (2) does not require an atheist counselor to tell a person of faith that there is a God if the client is wrestling with faith-based issues. Tolerance is a two-way street. Otherwise, the rule mandates orthodoxy, not anti-discrimination.
Yes, tolerance is a “two-way street.” But for the Left, these cases were about anything but tolerance. Instead, the goals were clear — establish absolute ideological uniformity in sexual morality and purge dissenters.If counselors are required to facilitate immoral relationships, could a Christian lawyer be disbarred for refusing to sue a church that won’t perform gay weddings? Where is the line? And if you think the First Amendment adequately draws that line, think again. Emily and Julea prevailed in their lawsuits, but judges have bowed to the Left in similar cases. Why should we not fight for effective state laws that can preempt the need for costly and lengthy federal litigation?
The Tennessee bill is now in Governor Bill Haslam’s hands. He faces a choice. He can offer a principled defense of liberty and common sense and sign the bill, or he can go the way of Georgia’s Nathan Deal and cave to a Left that is showing us all what intolerance truly means.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.