Conscience Protection Sought for Nebraska Psychologists over Homosexuality

By Kathleen Gilbert

LINCOLN, Nebraska, June 18, 2009 ( - The Nebraska Catholic Conference has asked that licensed psychologists be allowed to refuse services to homosexual couples seeking relationship help, reports the Lincoln Journal Star.

Jim Cunningham, the executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told regulators at a licensing rules hearing last Thursday that psychologists should not risk losing their job if they refuse to counsel such couples based on their religious belief that homosexual relationships are immoral.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference has also asked for conscience protection for licensed counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists.

Advocates cited earlier examples of discrimination against conscientious psychologists as evidence that licensing rules ought to contain a specific conscience clause.

Lincoln psychologist Edward Stringham pointed out a 2001 case where an appeals court ruled in favor of an employer who had fired a counselor for refusing to offer relationship enhancement counseling to a lesbian, citing moral objections.

That decision shows that professionals who could not counsel such couples in good conscience have legitimate concern of legal repercussions, Stringham said.

However, a psychologist representing the Nebraska Psychology Association argued that conscience language would allow too much latitude for practitioners to deny services as long as they claim their religious beliefs are compromised.

“I have provided psychological services to individuals convicted of murder, and I have never had to compromise my moral belief that killing is wrong,” said representative James K. Cole.

A conscience clause has reportedly already been incorporated in proposed rule changes for counselors, with language agreed upon by the Nebraska Catholic Conference and the Board of Mental Health Practice last winter.

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