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U.S. Federal Courts

Anti-LGBTQ legal group loses bid to overturn conversion therapy ban

The court ruled the state has a compelling interest “in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including LGBTQ youth.

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U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington at Tacoma (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

TACOMA, Wa. – The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington this week dismissed a legal challenge seeking to invalidate the State of Washington’s 2018 law protecting minors from conversion therapy by state-licensed therapists.

Brian Tingley, is represented in the suit by the Scottsdale, Arizona-based anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), and identifies himself as a “Christian licensed marriage and family therapist.”  Tingley alleged in the court filings that the provided definition of “conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased, and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

The law defines the practice as; “Conversion therapy” means a regime that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The term includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term includes, but is not limited to, practices commonly referred to as “reparative therapy.”

The law however did provide that; “Conversion therapy” does not include counseling or psychotherapies that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development that do not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It also stipulates that “conversion therapy” does not apply to “religious practices or counseling under the auspices of a religious denomination, church, or organization that do not constitute the performance of conversion therapy by licensed health care providers on clients under age eighteen.”

That proviso according to ADF attorneys representing Tingley is a “sham exemption” because the exemption does not apply to practicing Christian counselors like the plaintiff who wish to “help fellow Christians who seek his assistance to live consistently with the teachings of their shared faith.”

“Over the years, Plaintiff Tingley has had multiple clients, including minor clients, who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction and desired Mr. Tingley’s help in reducing those attractions so they could enter into heterosexual romantic relationships and the family lives which they longed for, and also so they could live in a manner consistent with the moral teachings of their Christian faith,” the lawsuit read

“For a minor client of faith who seeks the assistance of a counselor who shares his faith, to help him align his thoughts and his conduct with the teachings of his faith, the Law again says “No,” denying that young person professional help towards his goal, ” the suit maintained.

ADF alleged that the law deprives their client of his “right to practice his religious beliefs by speaking to clients on topics of gender identity and sexual attractions and change in a manner consistent with the teachings of his faith and that of his clients.” 

Referring to the law as the “Counseling Censorship Law,” ADF attorneys in the suit say that their client “is not able to freely and without fear speak what he believes to be true, and his client is therefore denied the right to receive open and uninhibited thoughts from his or her chosen counselor.”

ADF also contended that“ […] arguments based on the immutability of sexual orientation are unscientific, given that scientific research does not indicate that sexual orientation is uniformly biologically determined at birth or that patterns of same-sex and other-sex attractions remain fixed over the life course.” 

The court ruled that Washington has a compelling interest “in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harm caused by conversion therapy.”

The court held that the law regulates a dangerous treatment, not speech, and therefore does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The court also rejected the religious liberty claim, ruling that state governments may require licensed health care providers to follow professional standards and that the law applies equally to all providers, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous and unethical practice that claims to change sexual orientation or gender identity and has been shown to make LGBTQ children who undergo it nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide. In one recent study, more than 60% of children subjected to conversion therapy attempted suicide.

In November of 2020, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision voided a pair of local ordinances that were passed by the city of Boca Raton, Florida and surrounding Palm Beach County that prohibited therapists from offering so-called conversion therapy to minors struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In its ruling the court held that the bans were unconstitutional violating First Amendment rights on content-cased speech and religious freedoms.

That suit had been brought by two therapists that the ordinances targeted prohibiting them as well as other licensed counselors from performing gay conversion therapy on minors. They were represented by vehemently anti-LGBTQ Mat Staver, founder of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a law firm that seeks out legislation or regulatory mandates which uphold LGBTQ rights and challenges them in courts across the United States to overturn them.

Leading mental health professional organizations, the American Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Associations are opposed to what both have termed “the damaging effects of conversion therapy.” 

“There is no evidence that it is helpful and plenty of evidence that it is psychologically harmful to participants.  The practice must be banned in order to protect the mental and emotional well being of both children and adults,” a spokesperson for the American Pediatrics Association told the Blade. “It can be reasonably argued that members of the LGBTQ community experience suicide and assault at greater rates than the general population, in part, due to the continued authorization of conversion therapy.”

“The archaic idea that mental health providers can or should change someone’s gender expression or gender identity or their sexual orientation is based on a history of stigmatization and subjective, restrictive sexual identities. It increases the risk of suicide of our LGBTQ children from trauma via conversion therapy,” Dr. Katya Dobrynin told the Blade.

The Eleventh Circuit decision creates a split among circuit courts on the constitutionality of bans on conversion therapy. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have previously upheld these bans as constitutional.

The Williams Institute estimates that 698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S. have received “conversion therapy,” 350,000 of whom suffered the experience as adolescents. Most medical and psychological professional associations strongly oppose “conversion therapy” as illegitimate. 

The American Psychological Association has opposed the practice since 1998, arguing that there is “no credible evidence” such procedures proffered by adherents of the so-called therapy could change sexual orientation.

Conversion therapy has been banned in 20 states and more than 70 municipalities across the United States. California was first to do so in 2012.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Methodist children’s home sues HHS citing religious freedom violations

Federal rules ban discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and recognize same-sex marriage

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James H. Quillen United States Courthouse, Greenville, TN (Photo Credit: GSA/US Courts)

GREENVILLE, Tn. – The Holston Home, which is affiliated with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church and operates as an orphanage, foster agency and adoption agency, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging that its religious beliefs were violated by federal rules that it must place children with same-sex couples.

The organization based in Greeneville, located an hour West of Johnson City in Eastern Tennessee, claimed in the suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that “It would substantially burden Holston Home’s exercise of its religious beliefs to knowingly engage in child placing activities in connection with couples who may be romantically cohabitating but not married, or who are couples of the same biological sex.”

The DHS Federal rules in place were first implemented under the Obama Administration, requiring social service agencies which receive federal monies refrain from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and recognize same-sex marriages as legally valid.

Under the former Trump administration, that rule was reversed to read; “Given the careful balancing of rights, obligations, and goals in the public-private partnerships in federal grant programs, the Department believes it appropriate to impose only those nondiscrimination requirements required by the Constitution and federal statutes.”

The Biden administration reversed religious exemptions that the Trump administration granted.

The Holston suit also claims; “The messages Holston Home recites in its child placing activities are consistent with Holston Home’s religious beliefs about cohabitation, and about
marriage being between a biological male and a biological female.”

The anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Arizona far-right legal group is representing Holston in this case.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Anti-LGBTQ hate group asks Supreme Court to reverse 11th Circuit ruling

“No one is trying to suppress anyone’s right to believe in their own faith- They’re making it look like we’re attacking religious freedom”

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Screenshot via Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel video 2017

WASHINGTON – The D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM), the Coral Ridge, Florida based anti-LGBTQ+ Christian group petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by a lower Federal court that dismissed DJKM’s defamation lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

DJKM, which has been defined as an extremist hate group on by the Southern Poverty Law Center for lies and propaganda smearing LGBTQ+ people on its hate-watch map and list, filed a brief with the High Court on November 24.

In its appeal brief, DJKM, represented by the National Center for Law and Liberty (NCLL), asks the Court to reconsider its 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, a ruling which created a high bar for “public figures” to win defamation suits.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected DJKM’s defamation suit based on the Times v. Sullivan standard.

Sullivan requires “public figures” to demonstrate “actual malice” on the part of defendants in defamation suits.

In so doing, bringing a civil suit that seeks damages for defamation brought by a person in the public eye becomes an almost impossible task, depriving that individual of the opportunity to defend their reputation, the legal brief claims.

“That gives reputational terrorists like the SPLC carte blanche to attack and destroy its ideological enemies,” said Dr. Frank Wright, President and CEO of DJKM.

“We are asking the Court to give us and similarly situated ministries and individuals the ability to bring a claim for reputational harm that is currently denied under Sullivan.”

Founded by D. James Kennedy who spent nearly 50 years at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, which the group was originally called. Kennedy was known nationally for the “Coral Ridge Hour,” which was one of the highest rated syndicated religious programs on broadcast TV — and for his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, pornography, fetal stem cell research and the teaching of evolution. Kennedy died in September 2007 at age 76.

In a 2017 interview with the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale as the news broke that DJKM had sued the SPLC, the ministries’ arguments against SPLC in the suit aren’t as simple as it portrays, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis told the paper.

Before he became the city’s first openly gay commissioner, he was a community activist who tangled with Kennedy and his organization over its stand on LGBT issues.

Trantalis said the Kennedy Ministries isn’t being persecuted for its religious views. “No one is trying to suppress anyone’s right to believe in their own faith,” he said. “This is a continuation of an effort to make Christian as much of America as possible. … They’re just rebranding their message and making it look like we’re attacking their religious freedom.”

“Let’s not forget the legacy of D. James Kennedy,” Trantalis said, recalling the environment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said Kennedy stood with people opposed to LGBT rights “and supported everything that they said to denigrate the LGBT community at that time.” Trantalis pointed to his support for “reparative therapy in which he strongly advocated trying to ‘pray away the gay,’ and to force young kids into trying to deny their sexual orientation.”

“They may not want to bring up those episodes of the past. They perhaps remember him in a different way. But this community will never forget the legacy that he leaves behind,” he said.

Labeling the SPLC as a “watchdog/Left-wing advocacy group” the suit alleges that the SPLC classified DJKM as a “hate group” for teaching the traditional, Biblical position on marriage and sexuality.

The lawsuit also claims that because of SPLC’s false and defamatory label, DJKM has suffered reputational injury and financial harm from both increased security expenses and decreased donations.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court justices appear to lean towards overturn of Roe v. Wade

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states will implement complete bans on abortion

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The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (Photo Credit: US Supreme Court)

WASHINGTON – The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart began by arguing the court’s abortion rulings have “poisoned the law.”

“Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey haunt our country,” Stewart said. “They have no basis in the Constitution. They have no home in our history or traditions. They’ve damaged the democratic process. They poison the law. They’ve choked off compromise. For 50 years they’ve kept this court at the center of a political battle that it can never resolve and 50 years on, they stand alone. Nowhere else does this court recognize a right to end a human life.”

According to observers in the courtroom, most of the six conservative justices appeared to agree. “The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on abortion,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said.

NBC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pete Williams noted; “It’s pretty clear that Miss. law is going to survive and that the standard that the Supreme Court has used for 50 years to decide when states are violating its rules on banning abortion, of viability, banning it before the fetus is viable, is dead.”

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but has been blocked by two lower federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only licensed abortion provider in the state, went immediately to federal court to challenge the law, arguing that it is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s previous rulings including Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the justices to uphold precedent and avoid a ruling that would disproportionally harm women who have come to depend upon the decision, CNN reported.

“For a half century, this Court has correctly recognized that the Constitution protects a woman’s fundamental right to decide whether to end a pregnancy before viability,” she argued. “That guarantee, that the state cannot force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth, has engendered substantial individual and societal reliance. The real-world effects of overruling Roe and Casey would be severe and swift,” Prelogar told the justices.

She added: “The court has never revoked a right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and so central to their ability to participate fully and equally in society.”

A U.S. District Court had blocked the Mississippi law, holding that it is in direct violation of Roe v. Wade, the precedent legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 23-24 weeks of pregnancy.

A panel of judges on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed ruling that “unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability.”

The Circuit Court said states may “regulate abortion procedures prior to viability” so long as they do not ban abortion. “The law at issue is a ban,” the court stated.

In an analysis published by SCOTUS blog, Amy Howe noted;

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states (including Mississippi) will implement complete bans on abortion. Although the stakes in the case are thus obviously high, Mississippi takes pains to assure the justices that overruling Roe and Casey would not have ripple effects beyond abortion rights. It distinguishes abortion from other constitutionalized privacy interests, such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, saying that those interests – unlike abortion – do not involve the “purposeful termination of a potential life.”

But a “friend of the court” brief supporting the state argues that the effects would be much more expansive than Mississippi suggests. The brief filed by Texas Right to Life (whose counsel of record, Jonathan Mitchell, was the architect of Texas’ six-week abortion ban) tells the justices that the court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, establishing the right to interracial marriage, would survive if Roe were overruled because the Civil Rights Act of 1866 “provides all the authority needed” to strike down a state law banning interracial marriage. However, the group adds, the court’s decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down a Texas law prohibiting gay sex, and Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, would necessarily fall because they are “as lawless as Roe.”

In a statement to the Blade after the arguments had concluded, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) warned;

Today’s arguments should be a wakeup call for LGBTQ people. We must face the reality of a Supreme Court packed by one of the most reactionary presidents of our time, and we must get serious about passing a federal law that protects basic rights and liberties for our community. If you care about LGBTQ equality, it is essential as never before to do everything within your power to elect fair-minded local, state, and federal officials and to engage in real dialogue with those who do not yet fully understand or support LGBTQ people. We do not have the luxury of disengagement or passivity. If you are not actively involved in supporting a federal civil rights law for LGBTQ people, you are part of the problem.”

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