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Indiana city scuttles proposed “conversion therapy” ban

Faced with a lawsuit, the West Lafayette City Council abandons a ban that could have silenced Biblical counselors


West Lafayette City Hall City of West Lafayette/Facebook

Indiana city scuttles proposed “conversion therapy” ban

The City Council of West Lafayette, Ind., abruptly withdrew a proposed ban on conversion therapy at a meeting on Monday evening. A co-sponsor of the ordinance, which would have barred unlicensed counselors from talking with minors who sought help for unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, said he was pulling the controversial proposal in the face of threatened litigation.

Instead, the council passed a nonbinding resolution against conversion therapy on an 8-1 vote.

“In order to save the city from the costs and efforts of having to defend itself from that threatened lawsuit, it was better not to have the ordinance, but just have a resolution,” Councilman David Sanders said, WLFI-TV reported.

The withdrawn ordinance had defined “conversion therapy” as “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same gender.”

Steve Viars, the pastor of a local church that runs a Biblical counseling ministry, helped galvanize community opposition to the ordinance. The City Council first considered the proposal in late 2021 but tabled it in the face of pressure from Lafayette Citizens for Freedom, a local advocacy group founded by Viars’ congregation and other local churches. Council members received thousands of emails and letters from across the country opposed to the proposition, which they said would muzzle pastors, lay counselors, and parents.

Yet the threat of a lawsuit appeared to be the deciding factor in the withdrawal of the proposal. In a letter sent to the city’s attorney on Jan. 30, Peter Rusthoven and John Maley, partners at the Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg, argued the proposed ordinance violated both free speech and religious liberty rights.

“These core constitutional failings are exacerbated by the extraordinary scope of the proposed ordinance, which would penalize expression of the disfavored views by virtually anyone—including a parent, a teacher, a coach, a trusted adult friend—to whom someone might voluntarily turn for advice and counseling,” they wrote.

Viars called the battle “a sad chapter in our community’s history,” one that would have criminalized counseling that the church has engaged in for 45 years.

“I really believe this is ‘coming to a theater near you,’” Viars said. “The lesson from West Lafayette is that efforts like this can and must be defeated. The principles of individual freedom, parents’ rights, religious liberty, and the separation of church and state are still worth defending.”


Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.

@slntplanet

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