On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the banning of conversion therapy violates the First Amendment.
Judge Britt Grant explained in the opinion that “we understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech. We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
The ruling applies to ordinances in Florida’s Palm Beach County that ban therapists from counseling with the intended goal to change a minor’s sexual orientation, gender identity or romantic attractions.
The Human Rights Campaign describes conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, as a “range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identiy or expression.” It notes the practice has been rejected by mainstream medical and mental health organizations for decades and can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness and suicide.
Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, defines the practice as child abuse.
“Both judges joining today’s decision were appointed by President Trump,” Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said in a statement. “We fear that today’s decision may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the harm that may come from a federal judiciary that has been packed for the last four years with dangerous ideologues. The damage done by this misguided opinion is incalculable and puts young people in danger.”
The court majority said that not banning these ordinances would go against the First Amendment’s core idea that the government cannot prohibit expression of an idea simply because it’s offensive or disagreeable. They posed the alternative: “If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful.”
Opposing the decision, Judge Beverly Martin acknowledged she is mindful of free-speech concerns, but “respectfully dissents from the decision to enjoin these laws.”