WASHINGTON — A religious rights organization has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal regarding California’s ban on “conversion therapy” and counseling youth to resist romantic desires toward the same sex.
“SB 1172 directly violates the fundamental constitutional right to privacy in that it prohibits minors from defining their own existence. The law prevents minors from accessing mental health services and spiritual mentoring that would assist them in diminishing same-sex attraction in accordance with self-defined religious, moral, cultural, and philosophical beliefs,” the Writ of Certiorari recently filed by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) reads.
As previously reported, in 2012, as the ban was being contemplated in the legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown remarked that he hoped reparative therapy would be forever heaved into “the dustbin of quackery.” The bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, claimed that counseling and therapy aimed at helping youth turn from the homosexual lifestyle is the equivalent of “psychological child abuse.”
The legislation prohibited any type of “conversion therapy,” “sexual orientation therapy,” “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” by licensed therapists and counselors, but did not apply to those who “provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and do not seek to change sexual orientation.”
It pointed to statements from the American School Counselor Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others.
“No one should stand idly by while children are being psychologically abused, and anyone who forces a child to try to change their sexual orientation must understand this is unacceptable,” Lieu wrote in a written statement.
Soon after the bill became law, PJI and the Florida-based Liberty Counsel filed suit in hopes of obtaining an injunction against its enforcement. A psychiatrist, a licensed therapist who also oversees a church counseling ministry, and a resident who struggles with same-sex attraction and has been helped by the therapy were all represented in the suit.
“School counselors in private religious schools will only be allowed to give counseling that affirms same-sex attraction,” lamented PJI President Brad Dacus. “Youth in the early stages of puberty, when it is normal for them to be curious, often have fears that they may be homosexual. These youth are going to be subjected to tremendous victimization [via the affirmation that is] mandated through every counselor in the state of California.”
As the legal battle continues five years later, PJI has now appealed its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, presenting questions such as, “May a state bar ministers from inculcating or encouraging certain religious values in youth, when those ministers are also licensed by the state as mental health providers?”
“Are minors’ rights to privacy, autonomy, and self-definition violated by a State’s determination that they may only seek to reduce same-sex attraction on their own or with the assistance of unlicensed individuals, and they may not seek professional help to do so?” the legal challenge also asks the court to determine.
Plaintiff Donald Welch, who serves at Skyline Wesleyan Church in LaMesa, says that the law now subjects him to potential discipline by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences if he counsels youth in accordance with the Scriptures.
“In his pastoral role, Dr. Welch is prohibited from encouraging, enabling or validating sexual beliefs or behaviors contrary to the teachings of the Church. Dr. Welch’s clientele includes minors who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual and questioning youth,” the lawsuit notes, pointing to conflict between his job as a church counselor and the law.
PJI says that if the court accepts the case, it could be one of the most significant of 2017.
“If the Supreme Court grants our petition for Certiorari, this will be the most important freedom of religion case for this year and will impact the rights of counseling ministries across the country, potentially for generations to come,” Dacus said in a statement.