WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal over a New Jersey law that bans therapists and counselors from providing help to homosexual youth to overcome temptation.
As previously reported, reiterating his belief that homosexuality is “not a sin,” the Republican governor of New Jersey signed a bill into law in August 2013 that bans the use of conversion or reparative therapy, or to otherwise help minors who are struggling with feelings toward those of the same sex.
Text of the bill notes that the law bans “the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.” However, the regulation does not apply to counseling that seeks to affirm homosexual emotions or behaviors.
“[This bill] shall not include counseling for a person seeking to transition from one gender to another, or counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and does not seek to change sexual orientation,” it explains.
The bill was then challenged in federal court by the Christian legal organization Liberty Counsel, who represented several counselors and Christian organizations. A separate lawsuit was also filed by the parents of a teenager who desired help to overcome his struggles with homosexuality, but was now being denied from receiving it.
“[The unnamed teen] has a sincerely held religious belief and conviction that homosexuality is wrong and immoral, and he wanted to address that value conflict because his unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion are contrary to the fundamental religious values that he holds,” the lawsuit stated.
In November 2013, the ban was upheld by Judge Freda Wolfson, appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush. Wolfson opined that the ban only regulates professional conduct, which is allotted fewer protections than free speech.
“I conclude that A3371 on its face does not target speech, and ‘counseling’ is not entitled to special constitutional protection merely because it is primarily carried out through talk therapy,” she wrote.
Liberty Counsel then filed an appeal with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously upheld the restriction 3-0 last September. It concluded that although professional counseling is a form of speech, it differs from free speech.
“[T]he verbal communication that occurs during SOCE counseling is speech that enjoys some degree of protection under the First Amendment,” Judge D. Brooks Smith, likewise appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, wrote on behalf of the panel. “Because Plaintiffs are speaking as state-licensed professionals within the confines of a professional relationship, however, this level of protection is diminished.”
He explained that speech that is “used to provide personalized services to a client based on the professional’s expert knowledge and judgment,” may be regulated under the law. However, when a therapist is “speaking to the public at large or offering her personal opinion to a client, her speech remains entitled to the full scope of protection afforded by the First Amendment.”
Liberty Counsel then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on Monday, the court declined to hear the challenge, allowing the lower court ruling to stand.
President Mat Staver said that the court should have taken up the case since there are conflicting opinions among appeals courts.
“[Youth] could pursue a counselor who tells them that their religion is all wrong, their values need to be changed, they just need to accept homosexuality, but they can’t get a counselor who is ready, willing, and able to help them meet the objective of change which is something that they most desperately seek,” he lamented to OneNewsNow.
Both New Jersey and California have bans in place.
“The only other alternative that parents have is to move out of those states or to seek counsel from an unlicensed provider,” he said. “[But] that’s not an alternative because they can’t move, number one. And two, they want to go to an expert who’s trained in this area. Parents should never have to face that kind of a choice.”