Should a devout Christian, Orthodox Jew, or Muslim marriage counselor be sued in a state court because he or she declined to take a gay or lesbian married couple as clients? It seems patently ridiculous, right? After all, these religious traditions all reject same-sex marriage as immoral and sinful. But for liberals in the media, a proposed law in Tennessee to protect the religious freedom of marriage counselors is a troubling development that may promote "discrimination."
Witness how CNN's Nick Valencia, appearing on this afternoon's The Lead with Jack Tapper, presented his story on the "controversial" therapist bill before the Tennessee state legislature.
As the on-screen graphic warned of a "'Religious Freedom' Backlash" over a "controversial" bill in the Volunteer State, Valencia opened his segment by noting that the bill's sponsor, State Senator Jack Johnson (R), was contacted by a devout Christian constituent who is a marriage therapist that had been approached to take on a gay couple for counseling.
Johnson "knows there's only a handful of therapists in the state with deeply-held religious beliefs that will benefit from this legislation," Valencia noted, "Even still he thinks it's necessary."
Let's pause here for a moment. If the vast majority of secular marriage therapists in Tennessee have no qualms with taking same-sex couples, it would stand to reason that prospective clients are a) unlikely to randomly be rejected by a religiously-scrupled therapist and b) in the event they are, they have a panoply of alternatives in the marketplace.
Of course, this line of argument is completely absent from Valencia's story, which begins with a marriage counselor who is offended by and strongly objects to the legislation in question.
"This is not about us, this is about our clients," Jeannie Ingram was shown complaining to Valencia as his videotaped story opened. Valencia explained that in her 20 years of work, Ingram "has never seen a more pernicious violation of counselor ethics than the so-called Therapist Rights Bill, now proposed by the Tennessee legislature."
"It's our ethical responsibility to park our own values and let people be who they are and make your office a safe place for those people," Ingram insisted.
"As it stands, Tennessee Senate Bill 1556 would allow therapists and marriage counselors with sincerely-held religious beliefs to turn away gay and transgender patients without being sued for discrimination," Valencia explained, failing to note that the bill requires counselors to refer declined patients/clients to another therapist who would take them.
To be fair, Valencia did give screen time to bill sponsor State Senator Johnson, but it would have been helpful to viewers to have the perspective of a practicing marriage counselor who favors the bill and rejects Ingram's analysis.
After observing that most of the newly-proposed religious liberty laws are cropping up in Southern states with large "white evangelical Protestants" populations.
"I certainly think you could make the argument that it's a culture war," Ingram explained as Valencia noted that Ingram, "who is gay, says it's no coincidence" that the bills are coming up in various GOP states this legislative session. "She thinks Republican lawmakers are legislating morality with a focus on the LGBT community."
Ingram insisted the new law puts counselors like herself "in a bind": either follow the code of ethics of her profession, or follow the law.
"What are you going to do?" Valencia asked. "I'm going to follow the code of ethics," Ingram replied, closing out the videotaped portion of Valencia's report on a rather melodramatic note.
But of course this dilemma will NOT exist for Ingram, who doesn't turn down clients on religious grounds nor would she do so if the law passes.
Here's the relevant portion of the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics that's at play here:
Counselors do not condone or engage
in discrimination against prospective or
current clients, students, employees, supervisees,
or research participants based
on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race,
religion/spirituality, gender, gender
identity, sexual orientation, marital/
partnership status, language preference,
socioeconomic status, immigration
status, or any basis proscribed by law
As State Senator Johnson said earlier in the story, it's actually his bill that safeguards both the rights of those seeking counseling and those who offer counseling: "The ultimate goal should be to get the help for someone who needs help.... I would say the ACA is discriminating against their own members by requiring them... to treat someone."