As a young child I was told that there was a separation between Church and state so that there would be protection for everyone regardless of religious beliefs. Now there is legislation referred to as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing providers of services to not serve individuals with services if something about them conflicts with the individual’s religious beliefs.
It is our right as providers to treat or not treat someone based on our knowledge and skills. If I cannot accept someone whose life conflicts with my values and beliefs it is my responsibility to assure that the client receives the best care possible and I will refer out.
The bigger question is; why it is necessary to legislate best practice? In significant ways by putting this into legislation we are legislating morality and discrimination.
It is a very powerful moment in Michigan legislative history to finally see the Elliott Larson Civil Rights Bill open to inclusion of lesbian and gay citizens of Michigan. It is also a horrifying moment to see that in order to allow for non-discrimination of lesbian and gay people, our legislature proposes legislation which removes gender identity and expression from the proposed language. In other words, the only way to allow for non-discrimination of LGB people is to agree to allow for discrimination of Michigan citizens who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. Elliott Larson Civil rights Act without inclusion of gender identity and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in combination fail in efforts to stop discrimination.
As social workers we are reminded of American history and the end of slavery. Although there was an end to slavery there was still intense and allowable discrimination. Our history points to the division between “colored” drinking fountains and bathrooms and “white “drinking fountains and bathrooms. All of us as social workers are familiar with Rosa Parks and her refusal to sit in the back of the bus. What we are experiencing now is legislative action for discriminating against people who are different based on the provider’s religious beliefs. The Ku Klux Klan once stated that people of color were not acceptable and supported this with religious beliefs. Crosses were burned and people were lynched.
History is a powerful teacher and we must pay attention. We cannot allow for discrimination to be legislated. As a social worker you are the best evaluator of your ability to provide services and if you feel you cannot then our ethical standard is to refer to a provider who can care for our client. This is not an issue of legislation but it is an issue of best practice.
I ask that as social workers, regardless of political party and religious beliefs, we do not allow for the legislation of discrimination. We must protect the people we care for in the best way possible including referral for services and we need to do this because of our own awareness of personal bias and belief. We do not want a law that governs our practice.
Thank you for your continued advocacy and passion for advancing the social work profession.
Maxine Thome, PhD, LMSW, ACSW, MPH, Executive Director