Counselor Appeals to the Supreme Court Over Conversion Therapy Bans
The issue of conversion therapy, aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is once again in the spotlight as the Supreme Court faces a contentious battle between religious freedom and LGBTQ+ rights. In this case, Brian Tingley, a licensed family counselor in Washington state, is challenging the state’s ban on conversion therapy for minors, claiming it infringes on his free speech and religious rights.
While the practice of conversion therapy has been banned for minors in approximately half of U.S. states, it has resurfaced as the Supreme Court has shifted to a more conservative stance and become more open to cases involving religious freedom.
Opponents argue that conversion therapy poses significant risks to the mental and emotional well-being of LGBTQ+ young people, increasing the likelihood of depression and suicide. Washington’s law specifically targets licensed therapists, exempting religious groups and churches.
Tingley’s challenge to the ban brings up questions of whether the government can regulate “professional speech.” He argues that a 2018 Supreme Court decision involving anti-abortion pregnancy centers should support his case, as it strengthened First Amendment speech protections. In that decision, the court ruled against a California law that compelled pregnancy centers to notify clients about taxpayer-funded abortion and contraception services, asserting that it likely violated the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority argued that the California law’s regulation of “professional speech” did not create a separate category of workplace speech with different First Amendment protections. This decision was subsequently used to block enforcement of similar conversion therapy bans in parts of Florida in 2020.
Tingley is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious rights group that has had success at the Supreme Court in recent years. They argue that Washington’s counseling censorship law violates freedom of speech and harms both counselors and their clients.
The outcome of this case will depend on whether the Supreme Court chooses to hear it and how they balance competing rights and interests in the context of conversion therapy for minors. Whether the Court chooses to take the case or not, it could have significant implications for the intersection of religious freedom and LGBTQ+ rights.