Joy Buchman is a licensed mental health professional in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who fears that a city ordinance forbids her from talking to her minor patients who struggle with same-sex attraction or sexual identity confusion.

She could be fined and possibly lose her license if she helps such clients. However, if she chooses to affirm her minor clients’ same-sex attraction or sexual identity confusion, that would be permitted by the city.

Buchman is not taking the city’s gag order lying down. With the help of attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), she is suing the city for violating her First Amendment rights.

“The City of La Crosse has determined that the best use of limited municipal resources is to wade into some of the most profound ontological, moral, and religious debates of our age—the meaning and proper ends of sex, gender, and sexual attraction—declare one side the ‘winner,’ and investigate and punish those who dare to voice opposing views,” Buchman alleges in her Complaint filed in federal district court.

The local La Crosse law, Ordinance 552, originally passed on June 9, stated simply that it is “unlawful for any person to practice conversion therapy with anyone under 18 years of age.”  The ordinance defined “conversion therapy” as:

“[A]ny practices or treatments offered or rendered to consumers, including psychological counseling, that seeks [sic] to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.

“Conversion therapy does not include counseling that provides assistance to a person undergoing gender transition, 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, as long as such counseling does not seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

WILL attorneys sent a letter to the city explaining the First Amendment problems with a government imposing restrictions on what speech a counselor can use with a patient, and mandating “approved” speech on a subject of major societal disagreement. The letter charged the city with violating Buchman’s free speech rights.

Even worse, the attorneys charged, the ordinance could be used to punish clergy and parents.

Perhaps in response to that latter complaint, the ordinance was amended in September to limit the ban to medical and mental health professionals.

But that’s not good enough, Buchman contends in her lawsuit. The remaining ordinance still constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” and is forbidden under the First Amendment.

“This type of viewpoint discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution,” her lawsuit argues. “It is black letter law that a municipality like La Crosse has no authority to simply prohibit the expression of certain opinions it dislikes. La Crosse may not force medical and mental health experts who have good faith disagreements with La Crosse’s official perspective to choose between regurgitating that perspective and financial and professional ruination.”

In addition to violating her free speech rights, Ms. Buchman also contends the ordinance violates her freedom of religion. That’s because Buchman “approaches counseling through a ‘Christ centered lens’ based on her sincerely held religious beliefs,” her lawsuit states.

“The Ordinance substantially burdens the sincere religious beliefs of Ms. Buchman and impermissibly targets the religious views of Ms. Buchman and those like her who do not share the City’s views on matters relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. Ms. Buchman faces punishment simply for counseling in a manner that comports with her religious beliefs.”

Anthony LoCoco is deputy counsel with WILL and represents Ms. Buchman.

“The City of La Crosse is under the mistaken impression that it can simply punish citizens who dare to voice officially disfavored viewpoints on public issues of critical importance,” LoCoco told the Wisconsin Spotlight. “The First Amendment prohibits exactly this kind of big-government bullying. Attempts to falsely paint as hateful those who share good-faith disagreements on matters going to the core of what it means to be human won’t salvage the City’s position.”

As the Daily Citizen has reported before, “conversion therapy” is a made-up term from LGBT activists with a vested interest in keeping people from seeking help for unwanted same-sex attraction or sexual identity confusion. And it is a First Amendment issue that may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future, as several federal appeals courts are split on whether such bans on talk therapy are unconstitutional.

Focus on the Family does not conduct “conversion therapy,” but we do strongly support client autonomy and self-determination, meaning people have the right to engage in ethical therapy that is in line with their goals and values.

The Wisconsin lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution, the Wisconsin Constitution, and is preempted by Wisconsin state law. It asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting the city of La Crosse from enforcing the ordinance.

The lawsuit is titled Buchman v. La Crosse.