CLOSE

On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issues government-wide legal guidance, urging sweeping protections for religious freedom that could impact a series of pending policy decisions involving health care, LGBT rights, and even disaster relief.
USA TODAY

A gay man from East Tennessee is suing to overturn a controversial state law that allows counselors to refuse clients based on personal beliefs.

In the lawsuit, filed against Gov. Bill Haslam this week in federal court, plaintiff Bleu Copas says the law would allow counselors to discriminate against him because he is gay. Haslam signed the law in 2016.

Under the law, counselors can turn clients away if their “goals, outcomes or behaviors” conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles.” The American Counseling Association and LGBT advocacy groups have denounced the law as an attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

More:Haslam signs controversial counseling bill

Copas filed a similar suit in 2016 in Anderson County Chancery Court. That lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed, according to one of his attorneys.

The latest suit challenges the Tennessee law on federal grounds, arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit says Tennessee’s law represents “an actual and imminent threat of discrimination” to Copas and others across the state.

“Neither Copas … nor any other LGBT person in Tennessee has the security of knowing that, after summoning the courage to seek treatment and make an appointment with a counselor, the counselor will actually provide the necessary treatment,”  the lawsuit stated.

► More: Evangelical leaders issue Nashville Statement, a ‘Christian manifesto’ on human sexuality

Haslam’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Donnals, said on Tuesday she was not aware of the suit. But she added that the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

The law began as one of many so-called religious freedom measures considered across the nation after gay marriage was legalized — the original text would have allowed counselors to refuse service based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” But Tennessee lawmakers removed the reference to religion and replaced it with “sincerely held…