A U.S. District Court in Maryland heard arguments last week from Christopher Doyle, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, arguing that the state’s ban on “conversion therapy” for minors is unconstitutional. Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel explains the gravity of this case, “This is a serious free-speech violation whenever the government forces a counselor to provide only one viewpoint on the subject matter and deprive a client or patient the right to receive counseling of their choice.”
The lawsuit has important free-speech ramifications for counselors who help clients with unwanted homosexuality or transgenderism. But, as Staver says, it’s equally important for young people struggling with their sexuality, “People’s lives are at stake who desperately need counseling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior or gender confusion.” Maryland’s law keeps minors from resolving conflicts with a licensed mental health professional unless that counselor moves them toward homosexuality or transgenderism.
As explained in a previous article, Doyle’s complaint points out that these therapy bans rest on a flawed, deeply biased report from the American Psychological Association (APA) and that the conclusions of the report are widely misrepresented by LGBT activists and their allies. The lawsuit asserts that these therapy prohibitions violate First Amendment rights to free speech and religious freedom of both the client and the counselor. Such laws also violate ethical principles that are a standard for licensed mental health professionals.
The suit explains the purpose of the counselor-client relationship, “This therapeutic alliance is designed to facilitate the foundational principle of all mental health counseling: the client’s fundamental right to self-determination.” This right is clearly spelled out by professional mental health organizations.
The APA code of ethics begins with five general principles, the fifth of which is, “Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity.” This guideline states, “Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination.” It goes on to say that psychologists must be “aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on … religion.”
The American Counseling Association (ACA) puts it slightly differently in its code, saying that professional ethics include the fundamental principle of “autonomy, or fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life.” The basic idea, whether it’s labeled “self-determination” or “autonomy,” is this: The client decides on the goals and direction of the counseling, not the counselor. The ACA code also states that counselors should not discriminate on the basis of religion or spirituality. Therapy bans violate both of these.
Let’s say a 16-year-old boy believes what Jesus taught, that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a husband and wife, but struggles with homosexual thoughts, feelings, behavior or identity. He goes to a licensed Christian counselor because his faith is an important component of his life, and seeks help to live according to biblical teachings about sexuality. Professional ethics require a counselor to respect those beliefs and discuss the teen’s goals. They would spend time talking about reasonable expectations and the possible benefits therapy could provide – as well as the risks – as they develop a therapeutic relationship.
But in states and local jurisdictions that ban therapists from helping minors with unwanted homosexuality, a counselor would have to dismiss the teen’s religious beliefs and could not help him change any sexual behaviors he’s struggling with. A counselor could not help the young man explore possible factors influencing his same-sex thoughts and attractions. Nor could the counselor and client discuss questions about how the teen should identify. These include substantive questions like, “How should this teen label himself? Should he identify by thoughts and feelings which may change over time? Or does his identity rest in his faith and his relationship with God?”
Therapists like Christopher Doyle simply want the freedom to explore these important issues with their clients. Staver says Liberty Counsel has similar cases pending in California, New Jersey and Florida, and the group plans to file more, soon.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas referenced Liberty Counsel’s California and New Jersey lawsuits in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The California legislature had forced pro-life pregnancy resource centers to promote abortion. Lower courts had concluded that the state could regulate the content of “professional speech,” and courts did not need to use the strict level of scrutiny required by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled differently, “But this Court has not recognized ‘professional speech’ as a separate category of speech. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by ‘professionals.’” Staver believes this bodes well for pending cases, arguing, “The NIFLA case rejected the newly created professional speech category that originated in the first two counseling cases [California and New Jersey].” He says, “The question is not if the Supreme Court will strike down the counseling bans, but when that will happen. It’s just a matter of time getting one of these cases back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Let’s pray that he’s right, and that courts recognize that therapy bans violate the First Amendment and a client’s right to self-determination.
Click here to read the first part of this story.