Tampa Counseling Ban Struck Down by Federal Judge

A federal judge has permanently struck down a Tampa, Florida, ordinance that prohibited licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction and confusion about their gender identity.

The ordinance, enacted in 2017, was invoked by city code enforcement officers and threatened therapists and counselors who offered any treatment deemed “conversion therapy” to minors with a $1,000 fine for the first offense and a $5,000 penalty for subsequent violations.

In December 2017, Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal advocacy group, sued the city of Tampa on behalf of Robert Vazzo, a marriage and family therapist, and New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay, a Christian counseling and discipleship ministry.

On Oct. 4, Judge William F. Jung ruled that the city does not have the authority to regulate counseling because “it is the prerogative of the state.”

In his 50-page ruling, Jung wrote, “The city has never before substantively regulated and disciplined the practice of medicine, psychotherapy or mental health treatment within city limits.”

“With due respect for the citizen legislators on the Tampa City Council, none are skilled in mental health issues, nor are any of the city’s code enforcement personnel,” he added. “In contrast, the Florida Department of Health, with its skilled adjudicatory body, is equipped to address this dynamic area of psychotherapy.”

“This is a great victory for counselors and clients,” said Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman Mat Staver. “The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from helping their clients achieve their goals. Regulating health care is above the pay grade of local municipalities. While striking down the ordinance, the court shredded the arguments used to justify these unconstitutional counseling bans.”