Can we just talk?
Christian challenges Washington’s ban on sexual orientation counseling
A licensed family therapist and counselor in Washington is challenging a 2018 state law that attempts to silence therapists who seek to counsel teens about unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity. Tacoma-area counselor Brian Tingley’s May 13 lawsuit argues the ban on so-called conversion therapy violates his First Amendment free speech rights.
The law classifies conversion therapy as “unprofessional conduct” for any licensed counselor—meaning Tingley could face fines up to $5,000 and lose his license if he engages in it. And because he works at a standalone practice, he doesn’t qualify for exemptions offered to churches and other religious organizations.
The legislation broadly defines conversion therapy as “a regime that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity” and efforts to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” That includes mere talk.
While LGBT activists often focus on intrusive techniques like shock therapy to press for bans, few people actually advocate for such methods. Mainstream professional counseling organizations and the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) disavow such techniques. But LGBTQ advocates continue to push states and local municipalities for broad conversion therapy bans that include merely talking. To date, 20 states have passed such laws, reports the Movement Advancement Project.
The AACC’s ethical standard contains no reference to conversion therapy, but allows talk therapy: “Counselors may agree to and support the client’s desire to work through issues related to sexual behavior, identity, and attractions, but will encourage sexual celibacy or biblically-prescribed sexual behavior while such issues are being addressed.”
Court rulings on conversion therapy bans have been mixed. Two 2014 rulings by federal courts of appeal upheld similarly broad New Jersey and California laws, as did a 2019 ruling by a district court judge in Maryland. But in November 2020 a court of appeals ruled against twin Florida bans on so-called conversion therapy.
Alliance Defending Freedom counsel Roger Brooks said government can’t tell people—including counselors—what to think and say. “All Americans, secular or religious, deserve the right to private conversations, free from government censorship,” he told The Daily Citizen, adding that, “The state of Washington doesn’t get to ban speech it dislikes; that’s not what free speech means.”
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