The city council of West Lafayette, Indiana, has withdrawn an ordinance that would have banned unlicensed counselors from offering any counseling or Biblical advice deemed “conversion therapy.” That term, which has popped up in laws across the nation, has been used by LGBTQ groups and progressives to discredit any effort to help someone overcome homosexuality or gender identity issues.
Mobilizing efforts against Ordinance 31-21 was Faith Church in West Lafayette and its senior pastor, Steve Viars, who was seeking to protect area churches’ right to minister to their youth through Biblical counseling and teaching.
Ordinance 31-21—initially proposed by West Lafayette city council members David Sanders, a professor from Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, and James Blanco—threatened unlicensed counselors with a fine of $1,000 a day for violating a ban on what they considered the “harmful and discriminatory practice” of conversion therapy.
“We’re very thankful that they withdrew the ordinance, that was our goal,” Viars said in an interview with Decision. “That and trying to honor the Lord and look for as many Gospel opportunities as possible.”
So far, 20 states and the District of Columbia have adopted conversion therapy bans and about 100 other U.S. cities have adopted similar measures. Three more states are now considering similar laws, as are a handful of cities. Most of these bans impact licensed counselors and therapists, but West Lafayette is the second city to introduce one that targeted unlicensed counselors, which would disproportionally impact religious organizations and even parents.
Viars quickly realized that his church’s counseling ministry would be unable to faithfully share the Gospel or provide clear Biblical counseling with young people and minors on a variety of issues, including same-sex attraction or transgender body dysmorphia.
“Progressive activists have been promoting these types of conversion therapy bans with licensed counselors around the United States, with mixed results but primarily successful,” Viars said. “The issue is none of us in Biblical counseling ever practiced conversion therapy. It’s the opposite of what we’ve ever done.”
Conversion therapy has been associated by the news media and LGBTQ groups with outdated and discredited therapies like electroshock and other questionable tactics. In the last few years, this term has been broadened to include any counseling aimed at helping a person who desires to change any LGBTQ behavior.
“We don’t believe in coercion, but these conversion therapy bans now against unlicensed counselors criminalize Gospel ministry,” Viars said. “It’s a violation of the Constitution on so many different levels. It’s not just a religious freedom issue, it’s a free speech issue.”
The Biblical counselors at Faith Church go through a rigorous training process, but forgo licensing in order to use the Gospel in their sessions with patients. Because the ordinance targeted minors, the process would have prevented Biblical counselors from sharing the Gospel with young children as part of their ministry efforts. If a child was having questions about gender or sexuality, for example.
As part of their effort to protect their religious freedoms, Faith Lafayette enlisted the help of law firm Barnes & Thornburg, LLP. The firm drafted a legal letter explaining to the city council that, if enacted, the ordinance “would be constitutionally invalid on its face” as it would severely infringe on the freedom of religion and free speech.
“This is about much more than just Lafayette, Indiana,” Viars said. “This is about Bible-believing churches all around the country and to some degree around the world. And at some point, you have to stand up for parent’s rights, you have to stand up for the power of the Gospel and stand up for the sufficiency of the Word of God.”
To learn more about West Lafayette’s efforts to push against this ordinance, visit FreedomLafayette.org.