TAKE ACTION: Tell Your State Senators to Oppose Religious Discrimination in Counseling

Many people go to a therapist for advice on any range of emotional or psychological issues. But if passed, a new law in Michigan could subject patients to further emotional distress—this time in the form of religious bigotry—coming from the very people that patients are turning to for help: the counselors.

The Michigan House of Representatives recently approved House Bill 5040, also known as the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act.” If passed, the bill would protect therapists who discriminate against everyone from nontheists to members of the LGBT community. H.B. 5040 would prevent colleges and universities from taking any disciplinary action against counseling students who discriminate against patients, as long as that discrimination is based on “sincerely held religious belief.”

The law was conceived after a gay student at Eastern Michigan University was discriminated against by fellow student Julea Ward. Ward served as a graduate counselor in the university's counseling program. She was terminated from her position after she refused a patient whose file indicated a past gay relationship, a relationship Ward morally opposed as an evangelical Christian. She took her case to court and lost. That’s when lawmakers got involved.  And incredibly, proponents of the bill are claiming Ward was the one discriminated against. The bill is headed to the Michigan Senate to be voted on in the near future.

Students like Ward are subject to The Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association. As outlined by these guidelines, counselors may not allow their personal values to encroach upon their professional work. The role of the therapist is not necessarily to “affirm” the client’s beliefs, it is to offer support and guidance, even to clients whose practices a counselor may find distasteful. Ward violated these accepted standards, and her school was correct to relieve her of her position.

A brief filed by the ACLU in response to Ward’s case affirmed that the standards of the profession rightly put the needs of clients ahead of the personal moral views of counselors. In a high school setting, for instance, a counselor may be the one adult who gay, lesbian, or transgender students can look to for help. If students were to be turned away simply because of their sexual past or sexual orientation, the consequences could be devastating.

This bill clearly ignores the standards of the counseling profession, and furthermore, it protects religious discrimination inflicted by the very people who are supposed to be there to help vulnerable patients.

We need your help. Will you send a letter to your state senator urging them to vote this discriminatory bill down?