Another state is proposing a law that would seal the lips of therapists who counsel teens who want to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, and Liberty Counsel has agreed to oppose it.
The Florida-based, non-profit legal advocacy group already is fighting a similar censorship plan in California, where the dispute is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, in New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a plan that would “prohibit sexual orientation change efforts.”
The momentum in the battle may already be swinging toward Liberty Counsel, with a decision just this week in the New Jersey Senate to put off a vote while “unspecified changes” are made.
Liberty Counsel argues the bill, S2278, “prohibits only one viewpoint regarding change counseling and therefore constitutes viewpoint discrimination.”
“No viewpoint-based restriction on private speech has ever been upheld,” the group points out. “The Supreme Court ruled that ‘the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.’”
Daniel J. Schmid, Liberty Counsel’s litigation counsel, wrote to state lawmakers in a letter, “We strongly encourage you to reject this overreaching bill and to refuse to vote for a law that blatantly infringes upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs and that tramples on the fundamental rights of parents in New Jersey to direct the upbringing of their children.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said many activists “who are trying to force this unconstitutional muzzle onto counselors, point to political and ideological opinions unsupported by evidence or studies.”
“In fact, not one of the organizations mentioned in S2278 actually prohibits change therapy,” Staver said. “These unsupported opinions do not satisfy the Supreme Court’s mandate that the government present ‘more than mere anecdote and suspicion’ when introducing regulations that infringe on First Amendment liberties.”
The legislative proposal rests on the APA Task Force Report for its authority, but “the report was admittedly inconclusive as to the effectiveness of SOCE counseling,” according to Liberty Counsel.
The report actually says “sexual orientation issues in children are virtually unexamined.”
In the California case, Liberty Counsel was granted an emergency motion to block the law from going into effected on Jan. 1 of this year. It was adopted by majority Democrats in the California legislature last year.
At the time, Staver warned of the consequences.
“This is the first time in history that a state has burst into a counseling room and told the counselor what may be said and what the client may hear,” said Staver. “You can talk about same-sex attractions as long as you affirm them as good, natural and normal. But under no circumstances may a counselor offer, or a minor receive, counsel to change sexual orientation, same-sex romantic feelings, behavior or identity.”
He said several California counseling associations objected to the plan as an “unprecedented regulation of psychotherapy” and pointed out that “the definition of “sexual orientation change efforts” was vague.
“The minors we represent have not and do not want to act on same-sex attractions, nor do they want to engage in such behavior. They are greatly benefiting from counseling,” Staver said of the California plan that now is being copied. “This law is politically motivated to interfere with counselors and clients. The law is an unprecedented attempt to regulate what a counselor may say and what a client may hear. It crosses the line and violates the Constitution.”
Liberty Counsel filed the California lawsuit Oct. 4, 2012, on behalf of several parents and their children who are receiving and benefiting from such counseling; several licensed counselors who provide such counsel; the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); and the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), an organization with about 50,000 professional counseling members.
The law was adopted by majority Democrats in the state legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.