Counseling Org Cancels Tennessee Conference

     NASHVILLE (CN) — The American Counseling Association said Tuesday that it will relocate its 2017 conference, originally planned for Nashville, because of Tennessee’s new “discriminatory” religious counseling law.
     Last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill that allows counselors and therapists to refuse patients based on their religious beliefs.
     The bill, HB 1840, was sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown. It was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in early April, and signed by the governor on April 27.
     The legislation’s text states that, “No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.”
     The new law shields counselors and therapists from civil lawsuits or criminal charges for their refusal to serve clients based on their views.
     Haslam said he signed the bill, also known as SB 1556, because it does not apply when a person seeking counseling is in imminent danger, and it requires that a turned-away client must be referred to another counselor or therapist.
     On Tuesday, the American Counseling Association (ACA) announced that it will relocate its 2017 conference and expo, which it had planned on holding in Nashville, Tenn.
     ACA CEO Richard Yep said in a statement that “this was not an easy decision to make.”
     “After thoughtful discussion, the ACA Governing Council made the difficult — and courageous — decision on behalf of our membership. Of all the state legislation I have seen passed in my 30 years with ACA, the new Tennessee law based on Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 is by far the worst,” Yep said. “This law directly targets the counseling profession, would deny services to those most in need, and constitutes a dilemma for ACA members because it allows for violation of ACA’s Code of Ethics. By relocating from Tennessee, ACA is standing up to this discriminatory law and we remain committed in the battle to ensure that this law does not become the national standard.”
     The counseling organization says it is current taking bids for its 2017 conference from cities that can accommodate its space and housing requirements.

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