A Florida ban on so-called “conversion therapy” was struck down in federal court late last week, allowing mental health professionals to counsel children and teens complaining of unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
In the case of Otto v. City of Boca Raton, FL, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that banning such care was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty legal aid organization, represented Dr. Robert Otto and Dr. Julie Hamilton, both licensed marriage and family therapists, as well as their minor clients affected by ordinances passed in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County.
Judge Britt Grant, a President Trump appointee, wrote in the 2-1 ruling that “[T]he First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech. We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
Grant went on:
Nor can the local governments evade the First Amendment’s ordinary presumption against content-based speech restrictions by saying that the plaintiffs’ speech is actually conduct. We can understand why they would make this claim; if the ordinances restricted only non-expressive conduct, and not speech, then they would not implicate the First Amendment at all. Our Court, though, has already rejected the practice of relabeling controversial speech as conduct. In a case quite similar to this one, we laid down an important marker: “the enterprise of labeling certain verbal or written communications ‘speech’ and others ‘conduct’ is unprincipled and susceptible to manipulation.”
The First Amendment “protects speech itself,” not “the right to speak about banned speech,” the judge declared:
And what good would it do for a therapist whose client sought SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] therapy to tell the client that she thought the therapy could be helpful, but could not offer it? It only matters that some words about sexuality and gender are allowed, and others are not. … But speech does not need to be popular in order to be allowed. The First Amendment exists precisely so that speakers with unpopular ideas do not have to lobby the government for permission before they speak.
Judge Barbara Lagoa, another Trump appointee, joined Grant in the decision.
“This is a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship from government ideologues,” said Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver in a statement. “This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country.”
At this time, 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit what LGBT activists would call “conversion therapy,” instead favoring an affirmation-only approach when a young child struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction or deep-seated confusion about their gender.
Rather than offer these children real help to feel comfortable and whole in the bodies they have, mainstream medicine across the nation largely shoves them right down the transgender pipeline with even the youngest children placed on a path toward “transitioning” with hormones and surgeries when they are older.
Praise God for this ruling, but we’ve got plenty more work to do to save children from this dangerous path!
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