A significant free-speech case in which liberal activists are pressing states to censor viewpoints with which they disagree is only a step away from the U.S. Supreme Court.
That’s after Liberty Counsel filed a brief asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule a district court’s ruling against therapy involving “sexual orientation change efforts,” or SOCE.
The complaint challenges a Boca Raton, Florida, ordinance that prevents counselors from helping youth become free of unwanted same-sex attractions.
Critics claim it’s injurious to children to hear that they can address same-sex attractions that could be the result of abuse or dysphoria.
Liberty Counsel sued on behalf of counselors Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton and their minor clients. U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg, despite acknowledging First Amendment protections, refused to grant a preliminary order blocking the ordinances while the case proceeds.
The therapists “provide life-saving counseling to minors who desperately desire to conform their attractions, behaviors, and gender identities to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Liberty Counsel said.
“These ordinances are unconstitutional speech restrictions that violate the First Amendment,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “We have a number of similar challenges pending in other federal courts. It is just a matter of time before one of them gets to the Supreme Court and may put an end to these draconian speech restrictions.”
Rosenberg, the organization explained, “disregarded binding precedent and avoided ruling on the central constitutional claim in the case.”
“In National Institute for Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (NIFLA), involving crisis pregnancy centers, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the government must satisfy the highest constitutional scrutiny when it enacts laws infringing on the speech of licensed professionals. Although Judge Rosenberg acknowledged that the city and county failed to show that their ordinances satisfy this high scrutiny, she still denied the preliminary injunction,” the organization said.
Its brief to the 11th Circuit explains the Supreme Court in the NIFLA case concluded that governments cannot force their message on those who hold different beliefs and are unwilling to relay governmental information.
“The ordinances’ unjustified, blanket speech bans completely foreclose counselors’ provision of non-aversive, purely voluntary, speech-only counseling to clients who desire help to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion,” the appeals court was told.
“The ordinances violate counselors’ First Amendment rights by chilling and abridging their free speech and work ongoing and irreparable harm each day they remain in effect.”
The counselors are seeking a temporary order allowing them to provide services to their clients while the court case is argued.
The counselors believe “that through talk therapy people can make their own changes to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity, or gender confusion.”
Further, the American Psychological Association has admitted in a report that there is no “empirical or other research supporting any conclusions regarding either efficacy or harm from SOCE, especially in children and adolescents.”
The issue is being litigated in a number of jurisdictions across the country. At least one is expected to reach the Supreme Court, which then will have to rule on the speech limits the ordinances impose.
Under the Boca Raton ordinance, complaints of violations would be reviewed by untrained code enforcement officers and decided by special masters who are not required to have any training regarding sexual orientation or counseling.
The brief explains the 11th Circuit already “has invalidated laws regulating professional speech when the alleged harm purportedly being addressed was unsupported by concrete evidence.”
The harm claimed by the city and county is “merely conjectural.”
The state of Florida already has seen one battle over this issue.
Officials with the Christian Family Coalition Florida document how they won a major victory a little more than a year ago.
That was when commissioners in Miami-Dade County rejected a similar ban on youth counseling “that would have prohibited parents, pastors and doctors from counseling minors to help them reduce and eliminate unwanted homosexual urges and transsexual confusion.”
Dozens of CFC Florida members testified at a lengthy public hearing at the time against the counseling ban, convincing a majority of the commissioners to agree it was an infringement on the rights of parents as well as a violation of freedom of speech.
At the hearing, Commissioner Joe Martinez openly wondered why the proposal was even being presented.
“You can’t tell me what I should tell my child, or what I can’t. You’re stepping into my house,” he warned.
CFC Florida officials blamed a “campaign of outrageous lies sand misinformation” for pushing the idea to the commissioners.