Challenge to N.J. ban on conversion therapy appealed to U.S. Supreme Court

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013. Staff Reports

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court decision upholding New Jersey‘s ban on conversion therapy for LGBT youth has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the  National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

The anti-gay legal group Liberty Counsel on Wednesday asked the court to review a September ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which upheld the New Jersey law prohibiting therapists from performing the controversial “gay to straight” conversion therapy on LGBT youth.

The lawsuit, filed by two therapists, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the American Association of Christian Counselors, argued the law violates their right to free speech because counselors are barred from talking about conversion therapy.

Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver said that while the 3rd Circuit upheld the ban, “its discussion of the law created a circuit split on the issue of the appropriate level of scrutiny applied to regulations of professional speech and also on the issue of whether counseling in this area constitutes speech at all.”

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The 3rd Circuit ruling took exception to a lower court’s characterization of verbal communications during the therapy sessions as “conduct,” not “speech” protected by the First Amendment.

That put the 3rd Circuit judges at odds with judges in the 9th Circuit who upheld California’s ban on gay conversion therapy last year.

In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to California’s ban.

This summer, another district judge dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by a New Jersey couple who said their rights were violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son. That challenge has also been appealed to the 3rd Circuit.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the New Jersey law last year banning the therapy for patients under 18.

Earlier this week, the D.C. Council unanimously approved a similar ban on LGBT youth conversion therapy in the District of Columbia.

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