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05/10/2016 05:31 pm ET

Major Counseling Organization Protests Tennessee's Anti-LGBT Counseling Law

The group heavily condemned the initial legislation, calling it "an unprecedented attack."

Taking a strong stance against a new Tennessee law that permits mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBT patients, the American Counseling Association announced Tuesday that it is moving its annual convention out of the state.

The organization, which says it is the largest professional group representing counselors, will no longer hold its 2017 conference in Nashville. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) authorized a law that made it legal for counselors to reject patients who they feel violate their "sincerely held principles," a measure that the organization, as well as other mental health experts, widely condemned.

"Of all the state legislation I have seen passed in my 30 years with ACA, the new Tennessee law ... is by far the worst," Richard Yep, the organization's CEO, said Tuesday.

"This law directly targets the counseling profession, would deny services to those most in need, and constitutes a dilemma for ACA members because it allows for violation of ACA's Code of Ethics," he continued. "By relocating from Tennessee, ACA is standing up to this discriminatory law and we remain committed in the battle to ensure that this law does not become the national standard."

When lawmakers debated the initial legislation earlier this year, the group heavily opposed it, calling it "an unprecedented attack" on its code of ethics, which affirms that mental health professionals cannot refuse treatment based on “personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.” 

Tennessee's law is part of a national wave of GOP-sponsored religious freedom bills, widely interpreted as a means of denying services to LGBT individuals.

The American Civil Liberties Union also condemned Tennessee's measure for potentially setting a harmful precedent.

"This measure is rooted in the dangerous misconception that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate," the ACLU said in a statement last month. "Allowing counselors to treat some potential clients differently from others based on their personal beliefs defies professional standards and could cause significant harm to vulnerable people.”

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