By Bob Smietana
California’s lawmakers may ban some Christian therapists from talking about sex.
Or at least sexual orientation.
A new bill, headed for the floor of the California Assembly, would ban mental health professionals from discussing or engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”
The bill labels such efforts—sometimes known as “reparative therapy” or “gay conversion therapy”—as a fraudulent business practice.
It’s an expansion of a ban passed six years ago, barring such therapy with anyone under 18.
Reparative therapy has been controversial in recent years. And so has the ban. Opponents say the ban infringes on their freedom of religion and free speech.
The Supreme Court disagrees.
Eleven states have similar bans in place. Two-dozen states are considering adding bans this spring, reports USA Today.
California could take the prohibition of reparative therapy further. A new bill, known as AB 2943, would apply that ban to such therapy for people of all ages.
“This bill would include, as an unlawful practice prohibited under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual,” the bill states.
The bill would label such therapy as a commercial venture and ban it by amending a law aimed a preventing “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” That law mentions the sale of goods and services.
This led at least one commentator—and Christian legal groups—to suggest it could lead to a ban on Christian books with traditional sexuality.
That’s not the case, says the bill’s main sponsor.
Assembly member Nathan Low sponsored the bill, which has passed committee and is headed to the assembly floor for discussion.
His office said the bill would only apply when payment for therapy is involved.
Bookstores could still sell books that discuss sexual orientation and Christian teaching, according to Low’s office. Churches can run support groups for those dealing with same-sex attraction.
The law is aimed at therapy—not books—says Low’s office.
Matt Sharp, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), says the current bill isn’t that clear.
He told the California Family Association “it could be a violation if a pastor encourages a congregant to visit the church bookstore to purchase books that help people address sexual issues, perhaps including the Bible itself, which teaches about the importance of sexual purity within the confines of marriage between a man and woman.”
The ADF has posted a legal memo with its concerns about the bill.
Chief among them that the bill censors Christian ideas about sexuality.
“It targets a specific message—that an adult who is experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion can find help to address those issues—for censorship.”
Other Christian legal groups have raised concerns about the proposed bill, including the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI).
“Compassion demands that churches and ministries offer hope to those who want to voluntarily leave the LGBT subculture,” PJI president Brad Darcus said in a statement.
“The State cannot outlaw this compassion by calling it fraud. This is a diabolical attempt to stifle real debate and limit personal choices.”
UPDATE: Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, sent a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown to express his disapproval of the bill.
”I hope you will stand up for the First Amendment in opposing and, if necessary, vetoing legislation that would seek to, essentially, outlaw views of sexual ethics held by most Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and many others, all over the world and throughout history. This bill would have a chilling effect on religious institutions teaching their own beliefs, and would be a harm to all citizens, religious or not, by eroding basic First Amendment protections that protect us all.”
Bob is the former senior writer for Lifeway Research. In September 2018, he joined Religion News Service, where he currently serves as a national writer.