Opponents of an ordinance to prohibit “conversion therapy” in West Lafayette, Indiana, were so successful in speaking out against the proposal that city council members withdrew their proposed ban.
It’s a terrific example of a community – led by Christians – coming together to protect free speech, religious freedom and parental rights. Here is what the ordinance would have done and how Christians were successful fighting it.
Ordinance No. 31-21 would have made it illegal for licensed professionals or “unlicensed persons” to help minors struggling with sexual identity confusion to accept and embrace their bodily reality. It would have forbidden any help for minors wrestling with unwanted homosexual identity, behaviors or attractions.
Lafayette Citizens for Freedom, the group opposing the measure, said, “If enacted, it would criminalize faith-based counseling to minors on issues related to human sexuality with the threat of a fine from the police of $1000 per day.”
“Unlicensed persons” would have included pastors and youth leaders who meet with and disciple individuals; trained pastoral counselors who are unlicensed by state regulatory boards; and even parents who help their children move away from sexual confusion and toward a biblical sexual ethic.
The proposal was withdrawn because of community opposition and fear of lawsuits against the ban for stifling religious freedom, free speech and parental rights. The ordinance also violated ethical counseling principles such as client autonomy and self-determination, where the client sets the agenda, not the counselor.
When he learned about the proposed ban, Faith Church Pastor Steve Viars grew concerned, especially because the prohibition targeted “unlicensed persons,” but also because the legislation was developed by the city council without public transparency.
Viars explains, in an opinion piece for the Lafayette Journal and Courier:
We were tipped off about what the council had been doing behind closed doors for months by a media report just after Thanksgiving. The opposition grew so quickly that a separate organization was formed, the Lafayette Citizens for Freedom (LCF), a broad coalition of churches, campus groups and concerned citizens.
In his op-ed, Pastor Viars wrote:
Imagine a scenario where an area teenager voluntarily visits a self-identified faith-based counselor, but because the counselor used the Bible as their source of truth, the local police department imposed a fine of $1000 per day. Sound like a poorly-written plotline from a dystopian fiction flick? Actually, that could be our new reality, courtesy of the West Lafayette City Council and their proposed ordinance 31-21.
Viars explained that his church has provided “Biblical Counseling” for the past 45 years, through a “staff of 32 volunteer physicians, pastors, and other trained men and women” who offer “60-80 hours of counseling each week to people in our community free of charge.”
LCF explains that its “mission is to inform, equip, and activate individuals to engage in the preservation of religious freedom, individual liberty, and parental rights.” The group posted articles and videos explaining the ordinance; showed how it violated the religious freedom of religions that view homosexual and transgender behaviors as sinful; and demonstrated that the measure was “constitutionally invalid” and subject to lawsuits.
The organization posted a video and article from Linda Seiler, a resident of West Lafayette, who told her story of struggling with depression, suicidality and wanting to become a man. Seiler received help from pastors, counselors and lay leaders in the church and said, “I’m no longer suicidal, and I’m fully content in who God created me to be as a woman who is wholly attracted to men.”
Another article, “A Minor’s Viewpoint on Ordinance 31-2,” was written by a young woman named Ravin Bright, who explains that she “was counseled as a minor in a religious setting.” She was not abused or coerced into counseling. In fact, she had the freedom to walk away from her counselor, which she did.
Years later she returned, to the same counselor, and wrote:
Counseling, therapy, mentorship, conversion therapy – however you would like to define my experience and those like me – did not confine me or force an opinion upon me. I had an open door. Yes, my experience did shape my life, but it was by my own free will. I am passionate about preserving youth liberties, religious freedom, and parents’ rights because of the experience I walked away with.
LCF sent a list of questions to council members, asking about the ordinance. Only two of them responded, those planning to vote against Ordinance 31-21. Questions included: What is the demonstrated need for this ordinance? How will you amend the bill to protect minors’ rights and parents’ rights? And, how will you amend the bill to protect religious persons’ rights?
World News Group reported that LCF raised awareness and opposition to the ordinance, so that concerned pastors, counselors, parents and citizens sent hundreds of letters and upwards of 4,700 emails to city council members. 14,589 individuals signed a petition against Ordinance 31-21.
The council did vote on a resolution to condemn “conversion therapy,” in a meaningless gesture, but the ordinance was withdrawn by its primary sponsors.
What did it take for council members to back down? Pastors speaking out and writing opinion pieces. Churches, campus groups and individuals forming a coalition. Individuals and groups sending letters and emails and signing petitions. Concerned citizens testifying at city council meetings.
All in just four months of effort. Well, plus the threat of a lawsuit for violating constitutional rights.
But Lafayette Citizens for Freedom is not done. The group has a bigger vision: “We aim to equip the Lafayette community with resources to achieve all our goals. This includes voter registration, legislative information, candidate recruitment and support, and how to take action against anti-freedom legislations.”
Kudos to Christians who spoke up to make a difference.
Related articles and resources:
Focus on the Family – Resources: Homosexuality
Focus on the Family – Transgender Resources
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