A myriad of states, counselors, medical professionals, feminists, and minority faith groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect free speech and overturn the state of Washington’s counseling censorship law.
Washington enacted a law in 2018 that prohibits any conversation between a counselor and a minor with the goal of changing their perceived gender identity or sexual attractions.
In response, the nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Brian Tingley, a licensed marriage and family counselor in Washington.
According to ADF, the law “violates Tingley’s freedom of speech and infringes on his religious faith and that of his clients by censoring certain private client-counselor conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity that the government disfavors while allowing—and even encouraging—conversations the government favors.”
Last month, ADF asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and decide “whether a law that censors conversations between counselors and clients as ‘unprofessional conduct’ violates the Free Speech Clause.”
Now, many groups, including the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for Faith and Family, the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), Heartbeat International, the American College of Pediatricians, and multiple states, including Idaho, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, and several others, are asking the Supreme Court to take up the case.
In its brief to the high court, CMDA wrote:
Growing evidence has led many governments and medical institutions around the world to push back against gender transition procedures, preferring instead psychological evaluation and support.
U.S. counselors and physicians should be allowed to discuss this evidence, including the real risks and certain, irreversible changes effected by gender transition procedures.
In a ruling last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Washington’s censorship law. Additionally, the 3rd Circuit similarly upheld a New Jersey counseling censorship law back in 2014.
But in contrast, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a counseling censorship ordinance enacted by the city of Boca Raton, Florida in 2020.
These divergent rulings between the nation’s appellate courts create a “circuit split,” making it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case or a related one.
“The government should never control a counselor’s speech with his clients. Washington’s Counseling Censorship Law violates freedom of speech and harms counselors as well as clients,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch in a statement.
“Brian has counseled all types of people for more than 20 years, and those conversations are private—certainly not open for the government to censor,” Bursch noted.
The government has no business dictating what personal goals a client can pursue in counseling. A diverse group of individuals and organizations have joined us in asking the Supreme Court to hear this case and halt the unlawful attempt of Washington state officials to ban someone’s speech simply because they disagree with the viewpoints expressed.
Censorship laws, like the one in Washington, are often referred to as “conversion therapy” bans.
However, as we have written before,
Focus on the Family does not do “conversion therapy” – but then nobody does, because it’s not a thing. It doesn’t exist. It’s a meaningless term created by those who oppose leaving homosexuality or transgenderism.
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. Such work with trained pastoral counselors or licensed mental health professionals is often invaluable in helping people find freedom from unwanted homosexuality or sexual identity confusion.
Please pray that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to take up the case and protect free speech and the right of Christian counselors to provide their clients with the spiritual and psychological support that they desire.
The Daily Citizen will keep you apprised of important developments in this case.
The case is Tingley v. Ferguson.
Related articles and resources:
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom.