Divided Supreme Court
A divided Supreme Court has declined to hear a free-speech challenge brought by a Christian group against laws in California and 21 other states that prohibit licensed counselors from using “conversion therapy” with children and teenagers. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed dissents, while Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh expressed that he voted to hear the case. However, the majority of the justices disagreed, marking the fourth time since 2014 that the court has refused to hear such a case.
Christian Group’s Argument
Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal group, argued that counselors who espouse Christian values should not be censored by the state. They appealed to challenge a Washington state law that they believe violates the rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. The ADF lawyers argued that their client, Brian Tingley, a marriage and family counselor, helps clients with various issues, including sexuality and gender identity, based on his Christian beliefs. They claimed that Tingley’s clients seek his counsel to align their identity with their faith.
The Laws in Question
The laws in California and other states prohibit licensed counselors from using “conversion therapy,” which aims to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. State lawmakers argue that this form of therapy is ineffective and poses significant risks to the mental health of young people, increasing the risk of suicide.
Past Court Rulings
In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law, stating that the state has the authority to regulate the practice of medicine and professional speech. Last year, the same rule was applied by the appeals court in upholding Washington’s law. The Supreme Court, however, has previously disagreed with the 9th Circuit’s view on “professional speech” regulation. In a 5-4 vote, the justices set aside part of a California law, ruling that crisis pregnancy centers cannot be compelled to provide information about abortion services. The ADF’s lawyers argued that this ruling undermines the 9th Circuit’s decision in Tingley’s case, as it subjects him to state fines for expressing his viewpoint.
The Supreme Court’s Stance
While the court declined to hear the challenge, the current conservative majority has shown a willingness to rule in favor of free speech claims involving religion. In previous cases, the court has upheld free-speech rights for a football coach who prayed at the 50-yard line and a self-employed website designer who refused to design wedding websites for same-sex couples based on her Christian beliefs.
Arguments for and Against the Laws
Washington’s Attorney General, Robert Ferguson, defended the state’s law, stating that the 1st Amendment protects a person’s right to express harmful and hateful ideas in public. He argued that the law does not prohibit therapists from discussing conversion therapy with minor clients or recommending it to be performed by religious counselors. However, performing conversion therapy in their capacity as licensed therapists is prohibited.
Equal Rights Washington, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group, supported the laws, stating that Brian Tingley seeks Washington’s endorsement of his therapeutic methods, rather than mere expression of his ideas. They argue that the state is not required to endorse treatment methodologies that it deems ineffective and unsafe.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the challenge maintains the current laws in California and other states that prohibit licensed counselors from using conversion therapy with minors. The court’s refusal to take up the case indicates a continuation of the ongoing debate surrounding conversion therapy and the balance between free speech and protecting the well-being of young people.