Biblical counseling notched a big win on Wednesday when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton for further review of their appeal to begin enforcing a ban on so-called “conversion therapy.”
At the end of 2017, Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton passed a local law that sought to “ban what the secular media often refers to as “conversion therapy” but what is, in reality, simply biblical counseling according to God’s Word. Reporting on the court victory, Liberty Counsel explained that the law sought to “ban counselors from providing minor clients and their families with any counsel to reduce or overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or gender confusion.”
In other words, if a Christian parent brought their son or daughter to a Christian counselor to get advice and biblical guidance on how to process through and overcome sins of homosexual attraction, this law would prohibit the counselor from encouraging the minor to “repent of their sins” and work to grow in and cultivate heterosexual desires and attractions.
According to the Palm Beach Post, before the laws were even passed, “County Attorney Denise Nieman warned her bosses they were inviting a lawsuit.” This is because such a law is a clear and massive violation of the First Amendment, that the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
If enacted, this law would have stopped Christian counselors from proclaiming the full counsel of God’s Word to their hurting patients. These confused and hurting youth are the very ones who most need to hear about the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, the free grace available for sins in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the biblical call for sanctification — which includes denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Christ (Matthew 16:24).
The County Attorney was correct. Liberty Counsel, which exists to “advances religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and the family through litigation and education,” sued the county and the city on behalf of family therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, asking a federal court to block the implementation of the ban.
The counselors received their first favorable ruling in November 2020 when a “three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit ruled…that the laws which prohibit conversion therapy violate the First Amendment because the laws are content-based restrictions against speech.”
Yesterday’s ruling by the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the appeal by Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton to have them rehear the ruling. That means, as of today, Christian counselors can continue to provide faithful and fulsome counseling to any confused or hurting minors without fear of punishment by the government for declaring the truths and principles of God’s life-saving Word.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver released a statement, saying:
“This is a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice and be free of political censorship from government ideologues. This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country. Under the laws that were struck down, a counselor could encourage a client to take life-altering hormone drugs or even undergo invasive surgery to remove healthy body parts but could not help a client who seeks to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, or confusion. Clients have the right to self-determination. They have the right to select a counselor.”
God’s Word is very clear: Homosexuality is a sin. But His Word is also very comforting: All those who repent of their sins — no matter what those sins are — can find repentance, restoration, and new life in Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 promises us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In this fallen world, stained by sin, we all face a variety of different temptations. Some children are tempted to anger, or to lie, or to steal. Everyone is, in some way, tempted to lust. Jesus, however, has a strong warning for those who are repeatedly indulging in the sin of lust. In Matthew 5:29 he warns that “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Heterosexual lust is sinful — and so is homosexual lust (Romans 1:26-27). For young Christians struggling with this temptation, they need to receive comprehensive, biblically-faithful counsel. And any counsel that is unable to encourage them to repent of their homosexual desires is not being faithful to God’s Word.
The world wants to tell young children struggling with homosexuality that they are “born this way.” But the Bible has a different phrase — it says they must be “born again” (John 3:3). For minors who haven’t been born again, they need to hear the warning in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
“…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
This, however, is followed by the glorious hope of verse 11:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
And if they are already believers, they need to be encouraged to persevere in the faith, running the race (Hebrews 12:1-2) and fighting the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12) pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Had this law gone into effect, Christian therapists would have been completely hamstrung in their ability to share the true Gospel and counsel these youth with the entire scope of God’s Word.
As Christians, we can be thankful for this outcome, and for the good work that Liberty Counsel does defending our First Amendment freedoms. We can pray that Palm Beach County and the city of Boca Raton repent of their wicked efforts to silence God’s Word and God’s servants. And we hope that this victory helps stop any more so-called “conversion bans” from being passed in the United States.