'Must-stay-gay' counseling censorship under fire

Transgender-rights activists long pressed for criminal punishment of counselors who help people overcome homosexual desires.

The state of California came close in March to declaring conversion therapy to be consumer fraud.

However, a case in federal court in Florida regarding such restrictions in the city of Boca Raton and the county of Palm Beach may be moving in the opposite direction.

A couple of ordinances limiting what counselors can say already are in place, and the non-profit legal group Liberty Counsel has been arguing to remove them.

The ordinances “prohibited minors from receiving voluntary counseling from licensed professionals to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or gender confusion.”

Liberty Counsel is representing Robert W. Otto, Ph.D., and several of his patients, and Julie Hamilton, Ph.D., and her patients.

The legal team said Wednesday that because of a court hearing on the topic, it has filed a proposed order urging the court to enter a preliminary injunction.

“These counselors provide life-saving counsel to minors who desperately desire to conform their attractions, behaviors, and gender confusion to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Liberty Counsel said. “The sacred trust between counselors and clients establishes a unique relationship that permits the clients to inform the counselors of their goals and receive counseling consistent with those goals. However, Boca Raton and Palm Beach County are invading the private space of counselors and clients, forcing the government into the therapeutic alliance, and violating the privacy and fundamental rights of counselors and clients.”

Liberty Counsel contended the rules “violate the First Amendment by imposing a viewpoint and content-based prohibition on the speech of licensed professionals who offer change counseling in the city and county.”

“The Florida Legislature has rejected proposals to ban change counseling. Boca Raton and Palm Beach County have no authority to enact these unconstitutional bans,” the organization said.

“These ordinances are unconstitutional and prevent minors in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County from getting the help they seek from unwanted gender confusion,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “No government has the authority to prohibit a form of counseling desperately needed by children simply because it does not like the religious or moral beliefs of a particular counselor or client.”

The filing noted that during a recent hearing, representatives of the governmental units admitted they “don’t know” what kind of “conversion therapy” causes harm, Liberty Counsel said.

The therapy at issue involves helping people overcome unwanted sexual urges.

“Approximately 90 percent of Dr. Otto’s clients profess to be Christians with sincerely held religious beliefs that the Bible is the source of all Truth. Dr. Otto shares those beliefs, and therapy seessins sometimes include discussion of biblical viewpoints, including that God created men and women, that they are distinctly different, and that their design was purposeful.”

He also gives clients biological information, such as the fact that male and female are different “down to the chromosomal and individual cell levels.”

Hamilton’s clients are similarly situated.

The two have had success when a patient wants to change, and they both end the counseling when the patient expresses no desire for change.

But the ordinances strictly limit their free speech, they contend, preventing them from helping someone who asks for assistance.

The ordinances should suspended for a variety of constitutional defects, they contend.

“Defendants have never identified a single person being harmed within their jurisdictions by any [sexual orientation change counseling], let alone voluntary SOCE counseling that the person requests and is willing to receive,” they argue. “Defendants have never received any complaints of any SOCE-related harm to their citizens.”

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a California ban on counseling for minors, but the issue remains in the courts in other states.

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