The term “religious freedom” misses the point. The ongoing debate in the several states regarding the ability of vendors to refuse service has less to do with religion than it does with the broader freedom of conscience. Are we entitled, as individuals, to live our lives according to our chosen values? That’s the whole question, and the answer is either yes or no.
The debate continues anew following news from the heartland, brought to us by The Tennessean:
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday signed into law a controversial bill that says no licensed counselor or therapist must serve a client whose “goals, outcomes or behaviors” conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles” — a measure the American Counseling Association had denounced as a “hate bill” against gay and transgender people.
Senate Bill 1556 also shields from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecution and sanctions by the state licensing board counselors who refuse to provide services — provided they coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor who would serve them.
Hand-wringing was predictably prompt:
ACA spokesman Art Terrazas said the group is “extremely disappointed that Gov. Haslam has ignored the lessons learned in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi and has elected to sign this dangerous bill into law. Plain and simple, this bill codifies discrimination.
“It not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking counseling, but will also have unintended consequences that will reach Tennesseans in all walks of life — whether it’s a veteran suffering from PTSD, a woman suffering from spousal abuse or a business owner simply trying to attract out of state clients,” Terrazas said.
What is the alternative? Is Terrazas saying that people should be counseled by individuals who fundamentally oppose their lifestyle? What possible value is there in that? If you are gay, and intent upon living your life accordingly, why would you want to be counseled by someone who opposes that lifestyle? Wouldn’t you rather be counseled by someone who affirms your choices?
Critics like Terrazas describe the Tennessee law as discriminatory, and that’s true. But why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t people be able to apply their judgment to the question of which relationships they enter?
Another question may be more disturbing. Why would anyone want to force a counselors to provide such an intimate service to a client whose behavior that counselor cannot conscientiously support? How is that in the best interest of either party?
Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s best interest. Rather, it’s about the ongoing effort to wield the state as a weapon and forcefully transform the culture. The only possible motive for opposing freedom of conscience is the intent to violate it. Critics of emerging laws protecting free association oppose freedom as such. They seek to force themselves on unwilling parties, an imposition in the same category as rape, made less egregious only by the degree of its severity.