Texas Legal professional Common Says State Board Can’t Ban Social Employees From Discriminating Towards Folks Who Are LGBTQ

“The Texas Attorney General Says The State Board Can Not Forbid Social Workers Discriminate People Who Are LGBTQ or Have Disabilities,” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, bipartisan media organization that educates Texans about the public – and politics, politics, government and national issues interact with them.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday in a non-binding legal opinion that a state body cannot prohibit social workers from discriminating against LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.

The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council, which regulates social workers, has debated its code of conduct for months. In October, language was removed from the section that specifies when a social worker can refuse to service a person and allows social workers to refuse to service a person based on a person’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

After facing violent backlash from social workers, lawmakers and attorneys, the board overturned its decision just two weeks later and unanimously voted to restore explicit protection. It also voted to seek an opinion from the Paxton office on the legality of its rule change.

Months later, Paxton’s statement stated that the board was empowered by law to punish social workers who refused to work with clients based on aspects of identity such as age, race, and religion – but not their disability status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The board lacks the power to add these three categories, he argues.

Additionally, he writes that state laws do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, so there are no higher grounds for protecting the committee.

The board has not yet announced how it will react to the statement. Attorney General’s legal opinions don’t weigh the weight of the law, but government agencies and government officials often refer to the opinions when determining what is allowed under state law.

Paxton also argues in the opinion that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity can be constitutionally protected by the first amendment. Since “religious and philosophical objections to categories of sexual orientation are protected views”, he writes, the committee’s regulation contradicts the “longstanding constitutional protection” of religious expressions.

Will Francis, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said the opinion is a “very narrow reading” that ignores the core issue of what constitutes ethical practice and how the board may delineate this through its code of conduct.

“It is a political agenda rather than actually addressing the board’s legal obligations,” he said. He pointed out that the code of conduct preventing discrimination “is not about First Amendment rights – it is about access to services”.

By promoting the removal of protection, he said, there is a risk that people in need will be deterred from using these essential services.

“You have just opened the door to a social worker to discriminate on the basis of a disability and nothing can be done against him from a licensing standpoint,” he said. “This is an incredibly, incredibly dangerous precedent.”

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/14/texas-social-workers-lgbtq-diskrimination/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, non-partisan newsroom that educates and engages Texans about state politics and politics. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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