The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined for the third time to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law banning “conversion therapy” for minors.
The action came in an appeal filed by the rabidly anti-LGBT group Liberty Counsel, which argued that New Jersey’s law violates the religious and free speech rights of a young man and his parents.
The development is significant, because it further reinforces the constitutionality of state laws designed to protect minors and their parents from falling prey to fraudulent practices that purport to change a person’s sexual orientation.
By declining to hear the appeal, the nation’s highest court has made it crystal clear: Conversion therapy providers can’t use their religious beliefs as cover to sell ineffective, potentially harmful therapeutic services. States have a substantial interest in protecting LGBT youth from quackery, and parents don’t have the right to subject their children to it.
This is just latest setback for the conversion therapy industry, which has long been promoted by the religious right and a fringe group of allied psychologists and therapists who claim homosexuality is a mental disorder that can and should be “cured.”
Last year, in a landmark case filed by the SPLC against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a jury unanimously found that the New Jersey group committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices by selling a therapy it claimed could change young men from gay to straight. Like the Supreme Court, the jury rejected JONAH’s religious liberty defense. JONAH was forced to pay damages and shut down.
Other conversion therapy operators are now on notice.
The SPLC, Human Rights Campaign and National Center for Lesbian Rights last month jointly filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate a Virginia provider called People Can Change and others for their marketing practices.
Federal lawmakers and President Obama also have called for an end to conversion therapy, which can lead to depression, anxiety and in some cases suicide for patients who are made to believe that who they are is not acceptable and needs to be changed.
Some states aren’t waiting for an act of Congress. California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Oregon all have enacted laws to prohibit licensed mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy, and other states are considering similar legislation. The city of Cincinnati became the first local jurisdiction to ban it.
The Supreme Court’s repeated refusal to rule on the state bans means that states should not fear legal challenges to bans, because they have been repeatedly tested and have stood up against First Amendment claims.
More states need to act, as does Congress. The nation has had enough of the lies. All people, especially our youth, deserve protection from fraud and harm.
Scott McCoy is a senior SPLC staff attorney.
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