The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that Tampa Bay’s ban on so-called “conversion therapy” violates the Constitution, even as the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its own ruling against a therapist who counsels patients who want to overcome homosexuality — setting up the possibility that the Supreme Court will consider the issue.
In 2017, the city of Tampa Bay passed a law blocking counselors from practicing therapy aimed at helping minors overcome their unwanted same-sex attraction, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The order was challenged by marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and his minor clients and the Christian ministry New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay.
In October 2019, U.S. District Court Judge William Jung ruled that Tampa Bay’s ban was beyond the authority of local governments but did not rule on the First Amendment claim. Thursday’s ruling, citing an 11th Circuit opinion in Otto v. City of Boca Raton, argued that “city and county ordinances banning sexual orientation change efforts (‘SOCE’) were unconstitutional under the First Amendment.”
Liberty Counsel represented Vazzo. Founder and Chairman Mat Staver responded to the ruling by saying, “This is a great victory for counselors and their clients. Counselors and clients have the freedom to choose the counsel of their choice and be free of political censorship from government-mandated speech.”
In another press release, the firm added,
“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 such goals. That therapeutic alliance has long been held sacred and inviolable. The City of Tampa, however, stormed the offices of mental health professionals, thrust itself into the therapeutic alliance, violated the critical privacy inherent in such a relationship and disregarded the fundamental rights of the counselor and client.
No government should have the right to tell its people what kind of counseling they should receive. Tampa’s ban was, in effect, an endorsement and promotion of so-called transgenderism and homosexuality. By banning Christian talk therapy, which has been proven successful in healing gender dysphoria and unwanted same-sex desires, the city was effectively telling its struggling residents to stay locked in the cage of misery they were trying to escape.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled unanimously against a Christian therapist who sued to block a Washington state law banning conversion therapy. Two weeks ago, the court denied the plaintiff a full en banc hearing and let the ruling stand. Some believe this could set up a future Supreme Court case regarding counseling for those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction or other issues.
The banning of conversion therapy has become very common; according to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ issues, more than a dozen states have laws prohibiting its use by psychologists and counselors, among them California, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, New York, Utah, and Maine.
Last June, President Biden signed an executive order to “reduce the risk of youth exposure to so-called conversion therapy” and to “seek funding opportunities for providers of evidence-based trauma-informed services to better support survivors of so-called conversion therapy.” Biden also called for the federal government to “develop an action plan to promote an end to its use around the world.”
And in early 2022, Canada implemented Bill C-4, which is so extreme in its ban on conversion therapy regarding homosexuality and transgenderism that even pastors have expressed concern that they could be cited under the law for discussing biblical teaching on sexuality, biology, and morality.
It is critical to keep in mind that these bans are on voluntary counseling. This is not a fictitious cult-like religious group that forces poor helpless LGBT youth into some cruel brainwashing in an attempt to strip them of their identity; these are people who are distressed by the homosexual desires, identity issues, or gender confusion they are feeling and want help to overcome it.
Many of them may have religious beliefs that teach them that homosexuality and transgenderism is wrong. Or maybe they have participated in homosexual relationships or they began taking puberty blockers and realize that they no longer wish to go along with what the world, or their prior counselor, tells them to.
The left, though, would tell those people that they must be homosexual or change genders. There is nothing more twisted than telling teenagers who want to embrace the sex God made them and wants to defeat homosexual feelings that this is an attempt to convert them to something they are not and outlaw it. The real conversion therapy is the demand that these children engage in unnatural and harmful sexual behaviors or actually change their biological sex by mutilating their bodies.
The government isn’t just trying to tell counselors or others that they cannot express their religious or biological views and attempt to help someone, but they are also telling patients that they cannot seek help. While the left decries laws which describe mutilating a child’s healthy body as child abuse, they are actively ruining children’s lives by pushing them into a life of distress, Frankensteinish treatments, and sexually transmitted diseases. Just as horrifically, they are pushing them into rejecting God’s Word and celebrating sin.
To those who are dealing with same-sex desires or gender confusion, we can assure you that there is healing and hope. To those who try to stop people from hearing the truth, there is another fate. Jesus said in Matthew 18:5-6,
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
May we never stop proclaiming the reality that Christ saves and transforms sinners and may we never let those who hate God’s Word stop us from reaching out to others.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.