.- Responding to concerns that psychologists might be required to counsel homosexual couples about strengthening their relationship, Catholic leaders in Nebraska are asking for conscience protections for psychologists who refuse to treat or refer clients because of religious or moral convictions.
Speaking during a licensing rules hearing before the Board of Mental Health Practice, Nebraska Catholic Conference executive director Jim Cunningham proposed a “convictions of conscience” rule for psychologists.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that he warned that Catholic Charities in Omaha and Catholic Social Services in Lincoln might have to stop hiring licensed counselors and psychologists if they are not protected by the law. The Lincoln agency provides about $100,000 in free mental health services.
While most ethics codes for professional counselors and psychologists permit refusing to offer services based on ethical convictions, the codes generally require the professional to provide a referral for the client.
Cunningham said that even referrals could be a violation of conscience.
Edward Stringham, a Lincoln psychologist, said that the lack of a moral exemption could require a psychologist who believes homosexual relationships are immoral to counsel homosexual couples on improving their relationship.
According to the Journal Star, Stringham pointed to a 2001 federal court case which supported an employer who fired a counselor who refused on moral grounds to provide relationship enhancement counseling to a lesbian.
This is cause for legitimate concerns, Stringham said.
James K. Cole, who represented the Nebraska Psychology Association at the hearing, said that conscience exemptions could allow any provider to discriminate against virtually everyone as long as they claim a conflicting moral or religious belief.
The conscience clause is already part of a proposed rule change for counselors. Its compromise language was worked out between the Nebraska Catholic Conference and the Board of Mental Health Practice this winter.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference has also argued for conscience protections for social workers and marriage and family therapists.