(EDGE) Federal Judge Ronald Guzman ruled that pastors are not subject to the Illinois' Youth Mental Health Protection Act (YMHPA) that went into effect January 1, 2016; consequently, Illinois pastors can now feel less risk in telling counselees that Jesus can help them with unwanted same-sex attraction.
The plaintiffs, a group of five Illinois pastors and two church associations, expressed fear of being charged with consumer fraud should they counsel that homosexual conduct is a sin. They argued that ambiguous language in YMHPA has threatened their ability to counsel to minors and others that homosexual conduct is a sin, especially because all of the pastors are compensated by their congregations for their counseling as part of their overall pastoral services.
The Act reads, "No person or entity may, in the conduct of trade or commerce, use or employ any deception, fraud... in offering conversion therapy services in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness." The plaintiffs all consider homosexual conduct to be a "disorder" in human conduction. They dare call it sin. The court ruled that the law does not apply to pastors because such counseling is not in trade or commerce, saying that "the ordinary meaning of these terms [trade or commerce] does not suggest they apply to private religious counseling."
Although the ruling protects only Illinois pastors from liability under Illinois law, Guzman's ruling has potential national implications consistent with the view of many religious freedom advocates that the government can never regulate pastoral counseling because pastors are not in commerce.
Likewise, President Donald Trump's recent declaration that the federal Johnson Amendment, which prohibits pastors and churches from endorsing candidates, suggests a larger scope of church autonomy where the government may not or should not intrude. In this case, Guzman cited debate in the Illinois legislature indicating Illinois was choosing not to intrude.
The opinion considers different definitions of trade and commerce and determined that they in no way threaten pastors' ability to use conversion therapy, stating that, "The Act's only penalties apply to mental health professionals or to those who deceptively advertise conversion therapy for commercial purpose. Plaintiffs fit neither mold."
The plaintiffs' attorney, John W. Mauck from the law firm Mauck & Baker said, "Freedom of speech: the unrestrained freedom of pastors to counsel and people and of people to obtain counsel so they can make fully informed wise decisions at the heart of this case. The Democrats in Springfield aimed to restrict reparative therapy even at the pastoral level because in 2016 they defeated an amendment to give pastors an explicit exemption from the act. Yesterday's ruling means men and women, girls and boys with unwanted same-sex attraction can receive reparative therapy help from pastors even though the law prevents them from obtaining it from licensed counselors."
To read the order, visit https://issuu.com/mauckbaker/docs/030_order