Christian Organization Sues Boca Raton and Palm Beach County to Nullify Conversion Therapy Bans

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Palm Beach County Courthouse. Photo by Michael Rivera.

Liberty Council, a Christian non-profit organization and designated hate group, has sued Boca Raton and Palm Beach County for their bans on underage conversion therapy.

The lawsuit is on the behalf of licensed marriage and family therapists Dr. Robert Otto and Dr. Julie Hamilton, who have both practiced pediatric conversion therapy in the past. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has led the way in banning conversion therapy in municipalities across Palm Beach County.

“Every study documented that there is a significant potential for children undergoing conversion therapy to be harmed psychologically," former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie previously said when her city banned the practice. "While banning conversion therapy does not appear to be a priority action in either Tallahassee or Washington, [D.C.] tonight Boca Raton took another step to protect LGBTQ youth in our city from the harms of conversion therapy."

The backbone of Liberty Council’s argument is that the ban violates their First Amendment rights. Getting rid of this therapy is discriminatory toward their religion, they argue, and strips away the free rights of those who choose to “prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, or identities.”

“Boca Raton and Palm Beach County have no authority to prohibit a form of counseling simply because they do not like the religious beliefs of a particular client. The ordinances are unconstitutional and cause harm to countless minors in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County. Liberty Counsel will not stand by while an authoritarian council blatantly ignores the First Amendment,” wrote Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Council.

Almost every major medical and psychological association opposes conversion therapy including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

According to PBCHRC conversion therapy can cause “shame, guilt, depression, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred,” and other negative effects, proving it to be an abuse practice. The APA also released a resolution in late 2009 “which found that the so-called therapy relied entirely on anti-LGBTQ bigotry and a clear distortion of scientific data,” PBCHRC said.

This is far from Liberty Council’s first skirmish with lawsuits. The organization, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, has been involved in multiple cases — both threatened and real — ranging from disapproval of Harry Potter to banning marriage equality and pro-abortion laws.

Most recently, they sued Jacksonville last year to nullify their Human Rights Ordinance that included sexual and gender identity as protected categories. They also sued Tampa last year for their ban on conversion therapy.

Recent research suggests that conversion therapy does more harm than good. Cornell University combed through 47 peer-reviewed studies on SOCE counseling, and found that only one supported the practice, while 12 found that it is “ineffective and/or harmful, finding links to depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation and decreased capacity for intimacy.” The other 34 could not make a claim either way.

Many South Florida municipalities, including Broward County, West Palm Beach, Miami, Boynton Beach, Key West, Wilton Manors and more have joined the 11 states and other cities/counties across the country in banning conversion therapy.

Read the full complaint here.


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