MANHATTAN (CN) – Just as harmful pharmaceuticals require oversight, an attorney for New York City told a federal judge Wednesday that it was justified in banning gay-conversion therapy for the sake of the 13% of people who try to kill themselves after so-called treatment.
“This is a singularly harmful practice,” city attorney Alan Schoenfeld said of the therapy this morning.
Shoenfeld noted that the American Psychiatric Association, the World Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization are among of the mainstream medical groups that have called it ineffective and ultimately harmful to subject members of the LGBT community to therapy billed at making them straight.
“There is literally no one on the other side,” Schoenfeld said.
New York City counts itself among a group of 18 jurisdictions — states, cities and the District of Columbia — that have prohibited conversion therapy. That law invited a challenge in January from David Schwartz, considered the most recognized practitioner of the therapy in the Orthodox Jewish community.
“Suppressing false ideas is not a government interest,” Schwartz’s attorney Roger Brooks said in court today. “There is not any exception to the First Amendment for false speech.”
Brooks framed the question that Schwartz’s lawsuit poses as: “Is this law, this censorship law, content-based or viewpoint-based?”
While the city denies that the law has anything to do with religion, Brooks asked: “How can that possibly be right?”
Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious legal group that Brooks represents, defended Christian baker Jack Phillips before the Supreme Court and has been at the center of several high-profile lawsuits against LGBT rights.
For watchdogs at the Southern Poverty Law Center, however, Alliance Defending Freedom is classified as an extremist organization that has supported the criminalization of homosexuality at home and abroad.
Four years ago, the SPLC persuaded a New Jersey jury that the conversion therapy offered by a group going by the name JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, amounted to fraud. Just last week, a judge slapped JONAH with $3.5 million fine for staying open in spite of a court order.
One of the plaintiffs in that case, activist Chaim Levin, attended today’s proceedings in Brooklyn and urged U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie to reach the same conclusion.
“As someone who spent a year and a half attending conversion therapy as an adult and as someone who grew up in the same orthodox Jewish community as Mr. Schwartz, I sincerely hope the court will do the right thing and affirm this important law,” Levin said in an interview.
Following New Jersey’s lead, Dearie “will see conversion therapy for what it is: a sham and a fraud,” Levin added.
Dearie himself did not indicate how he would rule, describing the constitutional issues at hand as complex.
“This is not an easy area of the law,” the judge remarked at one point.
One of those complexities is whether Schwartz’s therapy counts as speech or conduct.
“It is a hybrid of sorts,” said Dearie.
Schoenfeld, the city’s lawyer, accepted that formulation, but he noted that medical professions already have limitations on speech. Doctors cannot disclose their patients’ private medical information; they cannot fail to report child abuse; and they cannot advise patients to commit suicide.