NJ’s Gay-Conversion Therapy Ban Upheld

     (CN) – Christian counselors failed to topple a New Jersey law that bans them from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation, the 3rd Circuit ruled Thursday.
     Assembly Bill No. A3371, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law last summer, prohibits state-licensed professional counselors from treating children and teens using “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), more commonly known as “gay-conversion therapy.”
     The statute says the methods rebut “fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes.”
     Days after A3371 was signed into law, National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) joined the American Association of Christian Counselors and two therapists in a lawsuit against Christie.
     “A3371 denies or severely impairs plaintiffs’ clients and all minors their right to self-determination [and] their right to prioritize their religious and moral values,” they claimed.
     An anonymous couple and their 15-year-old son, John, sued Christie with the help of the same lawyers a few months later, alleging that the law may cause their son to “regress” into homosexuality.
     A federal judge considering the first case rejected granted the state summary judgment shortly thereafter, rejecting claims that A3371 violates First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
     The 3rd Circuit affirmed that decision in a 74-page opinion Thursday, finding that New Jersey unquestionably has the right to regulate professional practices that it believes pose serious health risks to its citizens.
     “The legislative record demonstrates that over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE, expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm,” Judge Brooks Smith wrote for the three-judge panel. “Among others, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Pan American Health Organization have warned of the ‘great’ or ‘serious’ health risks accompanying SOCE counseling, including depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, and suicidality.”
     The Philadelphia-based court said this evidence was “substantial,” and that the New Jersey Legislature reasonably relied upon it when banning the practice.
     In finding that the law does not tread on the freedom of religion, the panel rejected the argument that it “covertly targets religiously motivated conduct.”
     “A3371 prohibits all sexual orientation change efforts’ regardless of the direction of the desired change,” Smith wrote (emphasis in original).
     The law also focuses on a counselor’s professional status, which plaintiffs failed to show “belies a concealed intention to suppress a particular religious belief,” the judgment states.
     Finally, the court dismissed all claims purportedly brought on behalf of plaintiffs’ minor clients, because “the fact that minor clients have previously filed suit bolsters our conclusion that they are not sufficiently hindered in their ability to protect their own interests.”
     The U.S. Supreme Court declined this past June to review a similar law banning gay-conversion therapy in California.

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