Who is in charge in Tennessee?

The stage is set in Nashville.  Legislators will soon decide who is in charge of our public colleges and, in particular, whether accreditation of psychology and social work programs in our public colleges trumps religious liberty. 

The issue of accreditation versus religious liberty raised by Senate Bill 514/House Bill 1185 was actually played out at Eastern Michigan University.  There, a Christian student, Julea Ward, was kicked out at the very end of her graduate degree counseling program when she could not counsel a client toward continuation of a sexual relationship that violated her religious convictions.  Though she asked her supervising faculty member to refer the client to someone who was comfortable with providing counseling consistent with the client’s beliefs, that was not acceptable.

In the course of the testimony given in Ms. Ward’s eventual lawsuit against the university, it became clear that the accrediting agency for psychology programs is becoming increasingly antagonistic toward religion.  It seems to be taking the position that referrals can be made for any number of reasons, even “personal” ones, so long as it is not a religious one.  It would seem that there is almost a desire to see Christians driven from the field of psychology (and other counseling fields).  And as you’ll see, that may be true.

In view of that trend, SB 514 was filed, giving legislators a chance to make sure that what happened to Ms. Ward doesn’t ever happen in Tennessee.  It’s a preemptive-type piece of legislation.

The problem is that oftentimes legislators don’t like dealing with “preemptive” legislation.  They don’t want to vote on “a solution in search of a problem.”  They want to fix “problems.”

Apart from the fact that it is bad public policy to choose only to be reactive to problems when you can proactively prevent them, the opposition to the bill might lead you to believe we do have a problem, at least one in the making.

In an alert by a leader of the psychologists across the state, it was said that SB 514 was the “first ’Problematic Bill’ of this legislative session.”1 The problem was that the “bill would permit TRAINEES … in psychology, social work, and counseling programs to refuse to see clients if doing so would conflict with the trainee’s ‘deeply held religious belief.’”

It certainly appears that asking the civil government to respect someone’s deeply held religious beliefs is apparently something that some psychologists think is a no-no. That’s interesting because it is the civil government, of which our public colleges are a part, that is specifically forbidden from not respecting religious beliefs.  It’s called the First Amendment.

But that’s not the worst thing.  The alert went on in the next sentence to say, “But APA Practice Guidelines state specifically, ‘Psychologists strive to be knowledgeable about and respect the importance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships’.…’  If a prospective trainee is not comfortable with this guideline, then they should not apply to an APA-accredited graduate program….” Somehow, a student being knowledgeable about those relationships and respecting the individuals as human beings is not enough; the student has to approve of those relationships or leave the program.

Pardon me, but I think this is the very problem that our Founding Fathers sought to escape: a state religion and leadership with the attitude that you could just leave if you didn’t like it.  And they did.

They left to set up this country where the government could not force you to believe things you don’t believe or force you to say things to others (counsel) that violate your religious convictions. Today, we’re back to where we started except now the established religion is secular humanism and if Christians don’t like it they can leave.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe this leader among the state’s psychologists respects religion, but he’s just more concerned with the respect and approval that comes to the government’s colleges through accreditation by the APA than he is with the state respecting the First Amendment.

The question is whether our legislators will make sure that one of its agencies – public colleges – doesn’t violate the First Amendment or acquiesce to letting an unelected, unaccountable, private accrediting organization be in charge.

I can hear Patrick Henry now, “Give me accreditation or give me death!

1 Though the state association for social workers also opposes the bill I have not heard from them language like that in the alert from the psychologists. Of course, the ACLU also opposes the bill.

[For more information about Senate Bill 514/House Bill 1185, go to FACT’s educational web page on this bill.]