A clash between what some call religious freedom and others call discrimination is making its way through the Michigan House of Representatives, as a bill regarding counseling students prepares to hit the House floor.
A bill introduced by Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, calls for protection for counseling students who refuse to see patients for a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The bill is set for a second reading in the House after passing through an education committee earlier this year.
The bill, dubbed the “Julea Ward freedom of conscience act,” gets its name from the case of an Eastern Michigan University graduate student who was expelled in 2009 for refusing to counsel a gay student.
Ward reportedly told her supervisors counseling the student would go against her religious beliefs, and she consequently was expelled for referring the client to another counselor.
Haveman’s bill aims to prevent students in counseling, social work or psychology from being in Ward’s case in the future by prohibiting educational institutions from discriminating against students if they cite religious or moral reasons.
“Every individual is entitled to religious beliefs and should not be reprimanded for those beliefs,” he said.
But social work senior Ethan Daley said he and his peers have begun to write letters to representatives opposing the bill, adding it doesn’t benefit social workers in any way.
“I shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who I help,” he said. “That’s stupid.”
In an analysis done for the education committee, organizations including the Michigan Counseling Association, or MCA, and the American Civil Liberties Union both oppose the bill.
According to a statement from the MCA, if the bill passes, public universities will risk losing their accreditation as counseling schools because they then will be “required to condone discrimination,” which is against the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics.
But Haveman said the current system of counseling hurts both the patient and the counselor by not giving the most beneficial guidance necessary.
“(It is) better for the client, who would not be receiving the best advice (otherwise),” he said.
Daley said he could see rifts arise with similar circumstances, but that’s part of being a counselor.
“A very large part of the curriculum is understanding different religions, cultures, beliefs.”