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'Gay'-counseling ban likely violates 1st Amendment, judge rules

A magistrate judge in Florida has ruled that a city’s ban on counseling against same-sex attractions mostly likely violates the First Amendment, giving the faith community that adheres to the biblical definitions for marriage and relationships its first major victory since the Supreme Court handed down a precedent in last year’s pregnancy-crisis-center case.

The newest ruling is from U.S. Magistrate Judge Amanda Sansone who wrote in a recommendation to district court that Tampa Ordinance 2017-47 should be enjoined because the plaintiffs demonstrated the law violates each and every test of the First Amendment.

It came in a case brought by Liberty Counsel against the city on behalf of counselors Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, the New Hearts Outreach ministry and their minor clients.

The fight has been going on for years already: pro-homosexual activists in city and state lawmaking bodies want to ban anything that suggests same-sex relationships are not the ideal, and so they try to ban speech that carries that message.

The NIFLA case decided last year by the U.S. Supreme Court involved abortion promotions, but it was the same government-mandated speech issue involved in the counseling regarding same-sex relationships.

In NIFLA, the high court said states cannot force private groups and individuals to present a message with which they disagree, or mandated speech.

In the counseling fight, it’s that governments are trying to censor any counseling speech that could be viewed as not endorsing same-sex relationships.

Mat Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel, told WND that the magistrate’s decision still must be affirmed by the district court, but it is important because “it’s the first ruling since NIFLA.”

“As we predicted, these counseling bans will fall,” he explained. “[Until they’re] eventually ruled unconstitutional across the board.”

He said the goal is to move one of the multiple cases now pending across the country to the Supreme Court, so that it can “put the final punctuation on these unconstitutional policies that ban counseling.”

Sansone’s 38-page report found that Liberty Counsel likely was able to prove that the city ordinance violated the First Amendment.

The city earlier had imposed the law demanding to stop licensed counselors from “providing talk therapy to minors seeking to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity.”

Liberty Counsel explained that the city failed to consider less restrictive alternative means, such as voluntary versus non-voluntary counseling, informed consent, and talk therapy versus other (no longer used) techniques.

“The counselors engage in talk therapy with those who voluntarily seek counsel and only with informed consent,” LC explained. “The city representative testified under oath that the officials had no idea between the different forms of counseling. Liberty Counsel presented evidence that so-called ‘aversive’ therapy or ‘electro shock’ has not been practiced for decades. The counselors only engage in talk therapy, and the city admitted that talk therapy was banned under the ordinance.”

In a statement, Staver explained, “The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from providing counsel which their clients seek. Our counseling clients engage in ‘talk therapy,’ which is the common practice of counselors. This well-reasoned opinion underscores the serious First Amendment violations of laws that dictate what a counselor and client may discuss in the privacy of their counseling session.

“The government has no business eavesdropping inside the counseling session between a counselor and client,” he said.

The decision cited the NIFLA outcome at the Supreme Court and said it, and other rulings, concluded such counseling is “speech,” but that the city “considered no lesser restrictions” to address what it claimed was a problem: Minors hurt by counseling.

“The plaintiffs are likely to succeed in proving that [the ordinance] is not narrowly tailored to promote the city’s interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors,” the ruling said.