Federal Court Rules Ban On ‘Talk Therapy’ For Minors With Same-Sex Attraction Is Unconstitutional

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A federal court ruled Thursday in favor of allowing counselors in Tampa, Florida, to provide “voluntary talk therapy” for minors that are experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction.

A Tampa City ordinance passed in 2017 formerly prohibited counselors from giving any kind of “conversion therapy” to patients under 18, and in response, Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, both licensed therapists, filed a lawsuit in the same year on behalf of their patients arguing that Tampa’s law posed an unconstitutional restriction on their right to free speech, according to Liberty Counsel’s press release. A panel of federal judges ruled Thursday that the ordinance did, in fact, violate Vazzo’s rights under the First Amendment, according to the six-page opinion(RELATED: Democratic Florida Senate Leader Lauren Book Introduces Bill To Ban ‘Gay/Trans Panic Defense’)

“In Otto, we held that city and county ordinances banning sexual orientation change efforts (‘SOCE’) were unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” the ruling read. “Accordingly, we are bound by our prior-panel precedent rule to affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Plaintiffs-Appellees.”

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the "Say Gay Anyway" rally in Miami Beach, Florida on March 13, 2022. - Florida's state senate on March 8 passed a controversial bill banning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools, a step that critics complain will hurt the LGBTQ community. Opposition Democrats and LGBTQ rights activists have lobbied against what they call the "Don't Say Gay" law, which will affect kids in kindergarten through third grade, when they are eight or nine years old. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the “Say Gay Anyway” rally in Miami Beach, Florida on March 13, 2022.  (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Conversion therapy is a highly controversial term used by LGBTQ activists to describe any form of  “dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression or treatment,” according to the Human Rights Watch, and is currently banned in 20 states across the U.S. Religious advocates and therapists often reject the term “conversion therapy” and, as argued in Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit, laws like Tampa’s “violate the sacred trust between client and counselor, and run roughshod over the fundamental right of client self-determination and the counselor’s cherished First Amendment liberties.”

In the decision, the court referred to Otto v. the City of Boca Raton, another Liberty Counsel case, where judges in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Florida, ruled that similar laws were unconstitutional, according to the press release. Proponents of the law argued that overruling the ordinance would harm children and allow therapists to push their agenda on children trying to express their identity, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Matthew Staver, founder and president of Liberty Counsel, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that “licensed counselors do not impose or force their views on clients.”

“Counselors are like a GPS to help clients, including minors, set the course and [are] objective [in] their counseling,” Staver said. “Ethical rules governing counselors require that client autonomy be respected. This has been a core component of counseling for many decades.”

The City of Tampa Attorney’s office did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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