Tag archives: Free Speech

Counseling Bans in Canada and West Lafayette Threaten the Free Speech of Pastors and Counselors

by David Closson

January 21, 2022

In today’s sensationalized news environment, most of the stories we read or hear about rarely deserve our immediate and undivided attention. However, two recent developments related to so-called “conversion therapy bans” merit attention from Christian pastors, counselors, and parents. These bans threaten the rights and responsibilities of those tasked with teaching, discipling, and caring for the people in our churches, ministries, and families.

The first story comes from West Lafayette, Indiana, where the city council recently proposed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” by unlicensed counselors. While these counseling bans are not new, the scope and reach of the proposed ordinance go beyond almost anything we’ve seen previously. By intentionally targeting unlicensed professionals, the ordinance would subject pastors and counselors to hefty fines for having conversations with church members and counselees about what the Bible teaches about unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria.

The proposed West Lafayette ordinance is likely unconstitutional. As written, the ordinance explicitly infringes on the speech rights of pastors, parents, and counselors. However, before taking a closer look at the shocking details of the proposed ordinance, it is important to understand the history behind the push to ban such counseling.

Counseling bans have become an important goal of the LGBT lobby. As public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted, there has been a concerted effort to enact bans on counseling pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity. By and large, these bans mandate that counselors use a “gender-affirming” model of care with their clients, meaning that licensed health care professionals and counselors are prohibited from discussing unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria with their clients (even if the patient and/or parents choose such counseling).

Although the media and the LGBT lobby use the term “conversion therapy” (which evokes images of discredited practices such as electroshock or other pain-inducing methods), counseling bans intentionally use broad language that includes talk therapy. In other words, counseling bans prevent counselors and mental health care professionals from counseling in a way consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny patients the right to choose such counseling. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have counseling bans in place.

For Christian pastors and counselors, the proposed ordinance’s inclusion of unlicensed counselors is very significant. Although the city “strongly discourages” those with professional licensure through Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency from “engaging in conversion therapy with a minor person,” it currently stops short of prohibiting the practice because the city lacks the authority to do so.

The proposed ordinance defines conversion therapy as “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” Because there are no ecclesial or ministerial exceptions, any guidance, advice, or encouragement from a pastor or Christian counselor about addressing unwanted same-sex attraction is prohibited. Violators of the ordinance would be fined $1,000 for every violation.

If passed, the ordinance would immediately affect a West Lafayette counseling ministry operated by Faith Church. Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries provides 60-80 hours of counseling each week and follows a counseling model known as biblical counseling, which offers support and guidance by applying biblical principles to people’s needs.

The second recent development in this area comes from Canada, where parliament recently passed a new law that bans so-called “conversion therapy.” Passed without debate or discussion, the bill, known as “C-4,” went into effect on January 7. C-4 amends the criminal code to criminalize conversion therapy, which is broadly defined as a “practice, treatment or service” designed to:

  • change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s identity to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth,”
  • repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behavior,”
  • repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity,”
  • repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned at birth.”

Moreover, the legislation describes as a “myth” the belief that “heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

Although it is unclear how C-4 will be enforced—and there is hope that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which explicitly protects the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression” (as well as the freedom of conscience and religion) will protect the speech of pastors, counselors, and parents—the fact remains that Canadian law now equates orthodox Christian beliefs about human sexuality with harmful “myths” and “stereotypes.”

Describing the biblically-based views of millions of Canadians as “myths” is discriminatory and intolerant, but that’s not even the worst thing about C-4. Under the guise of preventing “conversion therapy,” legislators in Canada have enshrined contested gender ideology into law. The broad manner in which this new counseling ban defines “conversion therapy” opens the question of whether Christian pastors and ministers will be in violation whenever they preach and teach about Christian sexual ethics. Moreover, it would appear that talk therapy—the practice of simply having conversations—related to sexual orientation and gender identity would transgress C-4. If so, Christian counselors and even parents could face criminal penalties for talking to children about the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.

Pastors in Canada and the United States are speaking out about C-4. In Canada, the Canadian Religious Freedom Summit encouraged pastors to read a statement to their congregations on January 9 expressing their concern about the new law and their intention to continue preaching the “whole counsel of God.” In the United States, John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church, encouraged pastors to preach on biblical sexual morality on January 16. According to The Daily Wire, at least 4,000 pastors in the United States responded to MacArthur’s call by preaching on texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, YouTube removed a clip from MacArthur’s sermon that Grace Community Church had posted to the site. In the clip titled “Transgenderism is a War on God,” MacArthur stated, “God made man male and female. That is determined genetically, that is physiology. That is science. That is reality. This notion that you are something other than your biology is a cultural construct intended as an assault on God. The only way you can address it, honestly, is to say, ‘God made you and God made you exactly the way He wanted you to be. You are not only fighting God in His physical creation, you are fighting God in His sovereignty. You are fighting God in His spiritual relationship to you.’ This is a war on God.”

For the offending statements, YouTube censored MacArthur, claiming that the comments on transgenderism violated their “hate speech policy.” This is just the latest example of Big Tech suppressing Christian views on sexuality.

Although it remains to be seen how C-4 will be enforced, the passage of this bill is not promising for pastors, counselors, and other ministry leaders in Canada. They need support, encouragement, and prayer as they face an uncertain legal terrain. And those of us in the United States must remain vigilant to ensure that lawmakers in the United States understand that tens of millions of Americans do not want their freedom of speech or religion infringed in a similar fashion. Counseling bans are wrong and have to go.

Like Canada’s new law, the West Lafayette counseling ban discriminates against orthodox Christian beliefs pertaining to sexuality. Although courts could find the ordinance unconstitutional, the discussion and debate surrounding it reveal the growing hostility toward those who hold orthodox Christian beliefs. The utopia of the cultural revolutionaries is a world where the teaching of Christian sexual ethics is outlawed, counselors are restricted to providing so-called “affirmative” practices only, and parents are prohibited from raising and discipling their children in line with biblical principles. Coming at a time when a Finnish member of parliament is being criminally prosecuted for her biblical speech on sexuality (her trial begins next week), these developments paint a foreboding picture.

Christian pastors, counselors, parents, and policymakers need to recognize our cultural moment and push back against this growing threat of counseling bans. If we don’t, the next generation will have less freedom to teach and live out God’s Word.

Virginia’s Governor Wants to Lock Teens in Transgenderism. Stop Him.

by Cathy Ruse

August 2, 2019

Disgraced Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has directed his Board of Counseling to punish any counselor who responds to a teen’s cry for help to accept her own physical biology. 

That’s called putting politics in front of people. 

You have heard of these bans. They’re sometimes called bans on “conversion therapy.” LGBT activists describe nightmarish scenarios of cruel methods used on “gay” people to make them “straight,” without any real evidence, to get what they really want: sweeping bans to outlaw not only cruel methods, but all therapy. Even talk therapy. 

They are speech bans, pure and simple.

Eighteen states have already thrown their teens under the bus. Democrats in Virginia have tried and failed to impose these speech bans through the legislative process. So Northam is doing it through the back door, through executive branch planned regulations.

They ban speech about unwanted same-sex attraction, but also about unwanted transgender feelings.

The regulations would ban talk therapy that “seeks to change” a young person’s “gender identity,” including “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.”

Gosh, that almost sounds like these regulations would stop Fairfax County public school “sexperts” from trying to convince little boys that they might really be girls. 

But read on. The regulations specify that the ban does not prohibit counseling “that provides assistance to a person undergoing gender transition” or that provides “acceptance” and “support” for a person’s “identity exploration.” 

You got that? It’s a one-way street. Under Northam’s ban, counselors are only allowed to use words that promote transgenderism—they cannot use words to help someone avoid it. 

As a philosophical matter, this is outrageous. Its legality is dubious.

But look at the real-world impact of this policy.

Say a girl suffers from gender dysphoria. Say at some point she “socially transitions” to living as a boy. Maybe she got the idea in her Fairfax County Sex Ed class. Now she wants help living as a girl. 

Governor Northam wants to make sure she can’t get it. 

Ah, but if she wants help living as a manthat she can find. 

It’s a one-way ratchet. It’s the Hotel Transgender. You can check in, but you can never leave.

If you live in Virginia, you can tell Governor Northam what you think of his proposed regulations. He is playing politics with real people’s lives. And partisan politics should not be used to ban biology-affirming counseling for patients who want it. 

August 7th is the deadline to offer comments on the initial stage of the planned regulations. 

Please go to the Virginia Town Hall website HERE, click on “Enter a comment,” and tell Northam’s Board why this counseling ban is a very bad idea!

McCullen v. Coakley: A Win (Somewhat) for Free Speech

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

June 26, 2014

Today, a unanimous Supreme Court held that a statute which limits access to traditional public forums outside abortion facilities violates the First Amendment. While the ruling is a victory for free speech rights in America’s public spaces, it’s only a halfhearted victory, and one which does not alleviate concern regarding treatment of free speech in the context of abortion.

How did we get here?

In Massachusetts, Eleanor McCullen and other women desired to stand outside of abortion clinics to be able to interact with women seeking abortions and dissuade them from having abortions. They politely shared their beliefs with the women seeking abortions. Eleanor would usually initiate a conversation with: “Good morning, may I give you my literature? Is there anything I can do for you? I’m available if you have any questions.” If a woman appeared receptive, Eleanor would provide additional information. Eleanor and other counselors believe it is important to maintain a caring demeanor, a calm tone of voice, and direct eye contact with the women considering abortions. Because their love and care is conveyed to these women, Eleanor and others claim to have persuaded hundreds to forgo abortions.

Yet many in Massachusetts did not like the fact that women were being dissuaded from having abortions. In an attempt to restrict Eleanor’s activity, the Massachusetts legislature passed a statute making it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any place, other than a hospital, where abortions are performed. Employees acting within the scope of their employment and several other groups of people are exempt from this restriction. Massachusetts claimed its statute furthered public safety and order, but the real aim was restricting pro-life speech.

Eleanor did not fall within any of the categories of people exempted from the statute’s effect. Indeed, the statute was aimed at restricting people exactly like Eleanor, because abortion providers did not like having potential customers deterred from having abortions. Eleanor and others challenged the statute on constitutional grounds.

What did the Supreme Court say?

While the Supreme Court held that the Massachusetts statute violated the First Amendment, this ruling is not a strong victory for pro-life speech. The Court held that the statute in this case was not narrowly tailored—which is required when restricting speech in a “traditional public forum” like the sidewalk areas here—but it refused to rule that the statute contained a content-based restriction in that it only discriminated against abortion-related speech. If the statute contained a content-based restriction, it would have been subjected to strict scrutiny, a desirable standard for those seeking to communicate pro-life views in the face of hostile legislatures. The Court reasoned that the statute could be violated by someone standing in the restricted area outside abortion facilities, regardless of what subject or message they conveyed. Yet such thinking overlooks the issue of who is likely to stand outside abortion facilities.

Massachusetts argued that it had an interest in promoting safety and order in these sidewalk areas, and the Court recognized that this was a significant government interest. The Court merely ruled that this statute was too broad and restricted too much speech in addition to promoting safety—the statute had to be “narrowly tailored” to address Massachusetts’s safety concerns. The statute could be constitutional if it was modified to address safety concerns without catching people like Eleanor or others within its net.

Despite its unfortunate reasoning, the majority opinion does tell us something helpful. In several places Chief Justice Roberts makes note of and seems to lend support to the style and method of the speech at issue here—that of a quiet, compassionate counselor engaging in one-on-one interactions. While loud and abrasive speech is clearly protected just like other speech (of course subject to constitutional restrictions), the Court’s apparent support (if it can be deemed that) for this type of speech could be helpful to keep in mind when future free speech issues arise in the abortion context.

Troubling Majority Opinion, but Heartening Concurrences

While this case featured a good result, the Court is wrong to not find that the restriction here was content—and even possibly viewpoint—based. As Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas, and importantly, Justice Kennedy) noted in a concurring opinion, “[e]very objective indication shows that the provision’s primary purpose is to restrict speech that opposes abortion.” It is not hard to believe that clinic employees—who are exempted from this law—will speak in favor of abortion near and around clinics when speaking to clients or potential clients. The majority avoided ruling the statute was unconstitutionally content-based because there was no evidence in this case of such activity occurring. Yet the majority opinion got this wrong. Justice Scalia’s point here is valid, as it is hard to believe that clinic employees would avoid speaking approval of abortion in the course of interacting with their clients. It is even harder to believe they would speak opposition to abortion.

Justice Scalia notes that contrary to Massachusetts’ assertion that it is concerned with safety and order, Planned Parenthood itself points to certain types of speech as the problem outside clinics. Planned Parenthood claims these protestors “hold signs, try to speak to patients entering the building, and distribute literature that can be misleading.” Justice Scalia rightly observes that the “safe space” provided by the Planned Parenthood escorts is protection from that unwelcome speech. He accurately ascertains that “[t]he obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to ‘protect’ prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks.”

Justice Alito went further in his concurring opinion, stating that the statute unconstitutionally discriminated against speech based on viewpoint by permitting clinic employees (who are of course going to express pro-abortion viewpoints) in the restricted zone, while excluding counselors from the zone who may express pro-life viewpoints.

What to make of all this?

The Court’s result is pleasing, but its opinion is troubling. The reasoning in the McCullen concurring opinions is solid and much more encouraging for pro-life free speech, and indeed, for free speech in general. The Massachusetts statute clearly aims at speech regarding a certain topic, and ultimately at a certain viewpoint on that topic. It is good to see that some justices agree with these conclusions. It is even more heartening to see Justice Kennedy so supportive of pro-life free speech.

While it is not heartening to see the Court issue such a weak ruling, a decision striking down this statute on First Amendment grounds is certainly better than the alternative. Hopefully next time the Court more clearly calls out content and viewpoint based restrictions on speech when it sees them.

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