CHICAGO — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton has ruled that an Illinois law banning mental health providers from providing help for homosexual youth to overcome temptation does not apply to pastors.
In August 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law the “Youth Mental Health Protection Act,” which makes it illegal for any “marriage and family therapist” or “professional counselor” to provide “sexual orientation change efforts” to youth under the age of 18.
“Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming,” the Act reads in part. “Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a person under the age of 18.”
It also bans therapists and counselors involved in a “trade or commerce” from engaging in “any deception, fraud … in offering conversion therapy services in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder or illness.”
As a result, five clergy members who provide counseling as a part of their pastoral roles, filed suit out of concern that the law could be applied to their work as they do teach that homosexual behavior, like all sin, is a human “disorder”—an outflowing of man’s nature, born unregenerate.
“We want to make sure that young people in particular have access to pastoral and biblical-based counsel if they want it, and that pastors are able to provide Bible-based counseling without any fear of legal repercussions,” plaintiff Steven Stultz told reporters.
“The Apostle Paul writes to those who had overcome many sins, including homosexuality, stating, ‘Such were some of you, but you were changed through God’s healing.’ I have personally witnessed many people change their sexual orientation through counseling and know it is possible,” he said. “The government is interfering into someone’s private decisions.”
The ministers did not seek to change the law, but only to ensure that church leaders are exempt from the ban.
On Thursday, Judge Ronald Guzman dismissed the case, stating that the pastors’ “fears of prosecution are too remote to support standing.” He ruled that the work of clergy—although it involves counseling youth struggling with attraction to the same sex—cannot be considered a “trade or commerce.”
“The Act’s only penalties apply to mental health professionals or to those who deceptively advertise conversion therapy for commercial purpose. Plaintiffs fit neither mold,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs’ private, free religious counseling services are even further removed from commerce than, say, law and medicine.”
Even though the case was dismissed as being non-justiciable, the law firm Mauck & Baker, LLC, which had represented the counseling clergy in court, expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“Freedom of speech is at the heart of this case; the unrestrained freedom for pastors to counsel people, and for people to obtain that counsel so they can make fully informed, wise decisions,” said attorney John Mauck in a statement. “The democrats in Springfield aimed to restrict reparative therapy even at the pastoral level because in 2016 they defeated an amendment to give pastors an explicit exemption from the act.”
The “ruling means men and women, girls and boys with unwanted same-sex attraction can receive reparative therapy help from pastors even though the law prevents them from obtaining it from licensed counselors,” he noted.