By Alex Mackenzie, CEAP

In the court cases referenced in the blog post below, the question wasn’t really whether a born-again Christian could refuse to treat, but rather, whether the EAP had the right to fire the counselor who refuses. Much of the discussion about these cases has been about a slightly different topic – scope of practice and therapeutic self disclosure. The crux of these cases is about two contests – one between religious and secular life, and the other between employers’ and employees’ rights. 

The U.S. is in a rather painful dialogue about whether the religious beliefs of some trump the rights of marriage equality and reproductive choice of others, and even the right of schools to teach about diverse families; and how far all those rights go. That exploration is half of the question in these court cases where an employer fired a self-described Christian employee for refusing to treat a gay client. The other half pertains to the right of the employer to compel an employee to do a job, or to discharge an employee who refuses.

As to whether religious convictions that gay relationships, or people who describe themselves as being gay, are offensive to one’s conception of God, trump the right of gay people to receive the same level of service as anyone else through their EAP – I think that I they do not. An already stigmatized minority being told that they are abhorrent (or some more polite wording that means the same thing) is damaging, possibly re-traumatizing, and being told that they are being referred, when they’ve been led to believe they could use EAP sessions for brief counseling, is a lower level of service a la “separate and unequal.” 

Put this into context by substituting relevantly similar characteristics, in place of “gay,” and it is fairly easy to clarify that providing a lower level of service (assess and refer, versus brief counseling) because of a counselor’s distaste for gay and lesbian folks is, at best inconsistent, and realistically, discriminatory. 

Would we accept other categories of people getting lesser service based on their being “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Jewish,” “Black,” “White,” “Latino,” etc., which a counselor finds objectionable? I think most would call such practice discrimination, and would quickly agree the agency should fire the counselor. What makes us think it is any more acceptable to apply a discriminatory standard on the basis of sexual orientation? 

As counselors, we are behavioral scientists. The best science available tells us that there are genetic and brain physiology differences between gay and non-gay people, and that based on this research, sexual orientation is not a choice, or even a narrowly definable behavior. As counselors, we know that language is powerful, and to use language like “being gay is a sin,” even if it is followed by something affirming (like, “but what isn’t?”) is to choose the religious over the professional – the mythology that goes along with one’s religion over science. 

Just as a church would be correct in firing a minister who refuses to provide spiritual content in sermons, a counseling clinic or EAP is right to fire a counselor who repudiates the scientific in favor of religion, and acts accordingly.