By D’Ann Lawrence White, – patch.com –
The conservative evangelical group, the Liberty Counsel, has filed a motion for summary judgment asking a federal court to permanently block the City of Tampa’s ordinance prohibiting licensed counselors from providing conversion therapy to minors.
The Liberty Counsel claims the ordinance violates the right to free speech and unfairly imposes significant monetary fines on counselors who provide this voluntary counseling.
The Tampa City Council unanimously passed its ordinance against the use of conversion therapy on minor children in 2017 after two hearings in which the public spoke in favor and against the ordinance. Fines for violating the ordinance range from $1,000 to $5,000.
Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a persons’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions. The therapy is intended to reduce or eliminate a client’s same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.
The legal action was filed on behalf of marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and the Christian ministry, New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay, arguing that the Tampa ordinance violates the bonds of the therapeutic relationship and the client’s right to choose what type of therapeutic outcome he or she wants to obtain.
“Tampa Ordinance 2017-47 violates the bonds of the therapeutic alliance and the First Amendment by imposing a viewpoint and content-based prohibition on the speech on licensed professionals in Tampa who offer counsel,” contends the Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver maintains that Vazzo only engages in talk therapy with clients who voluntarily seek it and give informed consent.
“The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from providing counsel which their clients seek,” Staver said. “Our counseling client engages in ‘talk therapy,’ which is the common practice of counselors.”
In January, a federal magistrate judge issued a 38-page report in January recommending that Liberty Counsel’s preliminary injunction be granted and that Ordinance 2017-47 be enjoined for multiple violations of the First Amendment.
“The magistrate’s well-reasoned recommendation underscores the serious First Amendment violations of laws that dictate what a counselor and client may discuss in the privacy of their counseling session and should guide the district judge in permanently enjoining the ordinance,” said Staver.
Conversion therapy — also called sexual orientation therapy or reparative therapy — has been banned in 20 communities across Florida, including Palm Beach and Alachua counties.
In 2018, Florida Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and state Rep. Michael Grieco introduced the first statewide legislation in the country banning conversion therapy.
However, the proposed legislation died before advancing through House and Senate committees.
Grieco has refiled his House bill for consideration during the 2020 session.
“Conversion therapy is a dangerous, despicable and non-scientific practice that only harms people it is supposedly meant to help,” said Grieco. “The idea that it is still legal to subject our youth to this aggressive and hurtful ‘treatment’ is unconscionable. Treating sexual orientation as a mental illness is demeaning and conversion therapy can lead to many unintended but harmful effects. This isn’t the first time the bill has been carried by me and it’s something near and dear to my heart.”
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