One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Social Work and Social Welfare Policy, wherein we learn about policy analysis. As a (future) social worker, or even as a person simply interested in social justice, it’s important to stay informed and to get involved, whether at the local, state, or national level – anytime there’s something going on that threatens the rights (or lives) of a marginalized population, or threatens the freedoms and equity afforded and deserved by everyone who lives in this country.
Admittedly, up until now I’ve done a bang-up job of avoiding policy and involvement in politics, even as a passing interest, because it all felt way too overwhelming and depressing. Powerless, even. But the wrong people benefit when that’s the position you take – by doing nothing, you’re taking a position, y’all.
So for this class, we had to find a policy that’s been introduced (and/or passed) within the last year that goes against the spirit of social work, and then most of our assignments are centered around that policy and analysis thereof. After perusing the TN General Assembly site (and getting REAL frustrated that someone like Mae Beavers was ever elected into office – keep your hands off my uterus, lady!), I found a policy recently introduced into legislation that does, in fact, go against the very spirit, nature, and ethical code of social work.
Well, to be fair, there were several that fit the bill, but this one made me angry, and I learned that it’s just been passed by the state Senate. SB1556 / HB1840, as introduced, “declares that no person 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.” In other words, these bills will allow for a therapist or mental health professional to actively discriminate and deny services to anyone they deem objectionable, based on the religious beliefs held by the service provider.
There are so many things wrong with this.
First of all, let’s start with the definition of “belief.” A belief is not the truth. A belief, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.” To take it a step further, Dictionary.com defines a belief as “
A belief is not a truth. Just because you believe in something, that does not automatically make it true, real, valid, or worthy of infliction on anyone else – much less EVERYONE else. What you believe is your business. What you believe has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Yes, our country was founded in part to protect religious freedoms, affording every single person who lives here the right to practice the religion of his or her choice. That said, when your religious beliefs render certain peoples or populations “less than” or “wrong”, then your beliefs are going to butt up against all of the other rights afforded those people.
We cannot be considered a country of freedom and equality when your beliefs-that-are-not-truths deem certain people or populations unequal.
Every mental health profession, whether psychiatry, psychology, counseling, or social work, has a code of ethics to which the practitioners agree, and those codes include some variation on the same theme: we seek to help ALL people, in whatever capacity we can. If we find that we are limited in our scope of knowledge, it’s reasonable to refer to other practitioners, but the expectation is that we will always seek to expand our knowledge base in order to help MORE people. And it is on us to set our biases and personal beliefs aside in order to help as many people as possible. Mental health professionals are not religious advisors, and clients seeking help navigating life issues or public services or treating mental health diagnoses are not looking for the provider to inflict religious beliefs on them.
Again: what you believe is not an actual truth. Your beliefs exist to guide YOUR life, not the lives of others.
So, let’s assume the primary driving force behind this legislation is to allow mental health professionals to deny service to the LGBTQI community because they disagree with their lifestyle choices. (It’s a pretty safe assumption, taking the bigger picture into account.) And let’s say that a client comes to you, experiencing difficulty with his or her relationship with someone of the same sex/gender. Let’s say your religious beliefs tell you this person is bad, wrong, going to hell, etc. because they’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex/gender.
That set of beliefs needs to get set aside, because it has nothing to do with anything. The sex or gender of a person and his/her partner has nothing to do with the bigger picture of human connection between two people. The client is not coming to you to ask you what you think of their relationship choices or sex/gender preferences, nor are they asking you whether you think it’s right or wrong. The sex/gender of person you’re treating and his/her partner have nothing to do with the service you’re providing, nor do the private parts and where they fit.
By providing services to that person, you’re not condemning nor condoning anything; you’re helping that person navigate, recover, and move forward. That’s all.
You can still practice your beliefs in your own personal life. You can still choose not to pursue a same-sex relationship because 1) you’re not attracted to people of the same sex, or 2) you are, but you believe it’s wrong and so you’re denying yourself the possibility at true comfort and happiness with someone because of what your beliefs tell you (ahem). What someone else does, and with whom, should pose no threat to what you believe and how you comport yourself accordingly. Unless, of course, the cognitive dissonance becomes too much to bear when you realize what you believe – those beliefs you hold so strongly to that you cannot and will not budge – flies in the face of what looks, feels, and sounds like a better way to live your life.
It’s my understanding that Jesus was all for loving everyone, helping everyone, being good to and compassionate towards EVERYONE. If your beliefs are rendering you incapable of setting yourself aside and humbling yourself enough to serve others no matter what, then maybe you should reconsider either your beliefs, or your chosen line of work. And maybe the government should be in the business of protecting ALL people, instead of allowing for the discrimination of some based on the religious beliefs of some others.