A federal appeals court has upheld a Washington state law prohibiting LGBTQ “conversion therapy” for minors by licensed therapists.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled Sept. 6 that Washington’s conversion therapy ban for LGBTQ minors is constitutional.
A licensed Christian therapist, Brian Tingley, whose marriage and family counseling practice is located in Fircrest, Washington, filed suit against Washington’s conversion therapy ban in May 2021.
In his lawsuit Tingley contended that the ban, which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018, amounted to censorship of his free speech rights to counsel patients through a plethora of issues including gender dysphoria, sexual orientation and unwanted same-sex attraction.
“Washington State seeks to insert itself into the privacy of Plaintiff’s counseling room and censor his discussion and exploration of certain ideas with his young clients,” claimed the suit. “The Law threatens severe sanctions—including substantial fines, suspension from practice, and even loss of his license and livelihood—if Plaintiff speaks ideas, and assists his clients towards goals, of which the State disapproves.”
But Circuit Judge Ronald Gould wrote in the panel opinion that the law “does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments” because the state has the power to regulate medical practices.
“States do not lose the power to regulate the safety of medical treatments performed under the authority of a state license merely because those treatments are implemented through speech rather than through scalpel,” wrote Gould, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton.
“Washington, like other states, has concluded that health care providers should not be able to treat a child by such means as telling him that he is ‘the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school,”’ Gould contended.
More than 20 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have laws against “conversion therapy”—a loaded term meant to discredit any counseling that upholds Biblical sexual ethics by attempting to tie it to unethical and outdated “change” practices used by some psychiatrists decades ago.
Gould added: “Washington’s law prohibits therapists from practicing conversion therapy on minors. It makes no reference to religion, except to clarify that the law does not apply to practice by religious counselors.”
Roger Brooks, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) who represents Tingley, said they plan to appeal the court’s latest ruling. ADF attorneys question the veracity of Washington’s Senate Bill 5722, which states the ban doesn’t apply to “religious practices or counseling under the auspices of a religious denomination, church, or organization.”
Describing it as a “sham exemption,” ADF contends that the law doesn’t protect practicing Christian counselors who “help fellow Christians who seek his assistance to live consistently with the teachings of their shared faith.”
ADF attorneys have dubbed SB 5722 the “Counseling Censorship Law,” saying that it is “a selfish attempt by the government to further a political and ideological agenda by abusing its power.”