Supreme Court rejects conversion therapy challenge in California; New Jersey to consider

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
September 10, 2014

Supreme Court rejects conversion therapy challenge in California;  Appeals Court conducts hearing on similar ban in New JerseyThe U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request in late June to hear a challenge to the California law prohibiting licensed psychologists and other mental health workers from providing conversion therapy to minors, days before a federal court of appeals court in Philadelphia heard opposing views on a similar measure in New Jersey.

The high court let stand a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that found California had demonstrated that such conversion counseling does not have any scientific merit and that the law does not violate the free-speech rights of mental health professionals and patients.

California State Sen. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat, praised the high court decision for preserving the law he introduced.

“The Supreme Court has cemented shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” Lieu said. “The court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic human principles.”

The challenge to the law was brought by the Christian group Liberty Counsel, whose founder and chairman, Mat Staver, expressed disappointment.

“I am deeply saddened for the families we represent and for the thousands of children that our professional clients counsel, many of who developed these unwanted attractions because of abuse of a pedophile,” Staver said.

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia hearing a challenge by Liberty Counsel and others to a New Jersey law prohibiting conversion therapy for children under 18 was told by a New Jersey assistant state attorney general that therapy seeking to change a child’s sexual orientation is just another version of techniques, including lobotomies, used in the past.

“Talk is the vehicle by which they’re delivering the treatment,” Susan Scott told the court. “The line is drawn when spoken word is meant to effect change and not just exchange ideas.”

In its decision last year upholding a California ban, the San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled that the law regulated conduct, not speech. In the New Jersey case, a federal court reached the same conclusion in November, holding that the state’s law restricted neither speech nor religious expression.

Liberty Counsel’s Staver said, “The New Jersey legislature and Gov. Chris Christie have burst into a counseling room and told the counselor what may be said and what the client may hear. You can talk about same-sex attractions as long as you affirm them as good, natural and normal.”

He said the minors the organization represent have not and do not want to act on same-sex attractions, nor do they want to engage in such behavior. “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.”

Elsewhere a measure to outlaw conversion therapy for minors failed to be voted out of committee in Minnesota and a bill approved by a legislative committee in Massachusetts died before being voted on by the house or senate.

Legislation prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy for minors has also been introduced in the Michigan legislature.

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