Federal Judge Strikes Down Tampa's Conversion Therapy Ban

April 4, 2020 0 By JohnValbyNation

TAMPA, FL — U.S. District Judge William F. Jung struck down a Tampa ordinance that prohibited conversion therapy for minors to eliminate same-sex attractions.

The Friday invalidated a Tampa ordinance that imposed fines on licensed counselors who provide voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.

The conservative, nonprofit Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and his clients, as well as the Christian ministry New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay.

Jung ruled local governments do not have authority to regulate counseling because it is the prerogative of the state. The 41-page ruling states, in part, the city does not have the charter or home rule authority to regulate healthcare including psychotherapy and mental health treatments.

“Nothing is more intimate, more private, and more sensitive, than a growing young man or woman talking to a mental health therapist about sex, gender, preferences and conflicting feelings,” Jung said in his order. “The ordinance inserts the city’s code enforcers into the middle of this sensitive, intense and private moment. But this moment is already governed by Florida’s very broad rights of privacy, something the ordinance ignores. …The Florida Constitution’s privacy amendment suggests that government should stay out of the therapy room.”

“The ordinance eliminates this longstanding parental right without discussion or exception— Florida already occupied this ground. Parental rights, which the Florida Supreme Court has noted are fundamental and protected by the state constitution, are reduced or increased within Hillsborough County, Florida, depending on whether one steps across the Tampa city line or not.”

Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver called Jung’s ruling “a great victory.”

“The City of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from helping their clients achieve their goals,” Staver said. “Regulating healthcare is above the pay grade of local municipalities. While striking down the ordinance, the court shredded the arguments used to justify these unconstitutional counseling bans.”

The Tampa City Council unanimously approved the ordinance in 2017 after two hearings in which members of 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 person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.

Conversion therapy — also called sexual orientation therapy or reparative therapy — has been banned in 20 communities across Florida, including Palm Beach and Alachua counties.

Staver said this week’s ruling could result in the ordinances in those communities being overturned as well.

“This ruling dooms every municipality in Florida and is the beginning of the end of more than 50 similar local laws around the country,” Staver said. “This ruling also shows clearly why the other statewide laws will meet the same fate as Tampa. The First Amendment will wipe away every one of these speech-restrictive laws.”

But in his ruling, Jung was more concerned about the city’s attempt to subvert state law than any philosophical views on conversion therapy. That means there is no legal precedent preventing Florida from passing a statewide ban on the therapy.

Florida Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and state Rep. Michael Grieco in 2018 introduced the first statewide legislation in the country banning conversion therapy. But the legislation died before advancing through House and Senate committees. Grieco, though, 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,” Grieco said. “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.”

See related story:

Liberty Counsel Challenges Tampa’s Conversion Therapy Ban

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