Why the Mental Health Professions Want to Ban Conversion Therapy

While there are several reasons why mental health advocates want to ban sexual orientation change efforts, I want to focus on the recent push to legislate bans on the practice by licensed professionals.
Historically, therapists who treat gays with an aim to change them have viewed homosexuality as a developmental disorder. Some may also think same-sex sexual behavior is immoral, but principally the use of therapeutic techniques is driven by a belief that there is something psychologically wrong with someone who is attracted to the same sex. If the right techniques can be applied, eventually the GLB person will experience a shift in psychological perspective and find the opposite sex attractive. In short, homosexuality is an illness to be cured.
As most readers know, this view of same-sex orientation isn’t held by any medical or mental health professional organization today. Only a tiny group of practitioners hold to this view and they are among those who are fighting legislative efforts to ban sexual orientation change efforts. When legislators craft bills to stop treatment of same-sex orientation, they are hoping to stop efforts to cure something that isn’t a disorder.
To me, this is a sensible stance. No disorder, no need for treatment.
On the other hand, many religious traditions disagree with same-sex sexual behavior. They discourage such behavior as inconsistent with their moral teachings. Churches and religious groups have the right to teach this and advise their members in keeping with their principles. When people ask for their advice or opinion, churches can teach their views. In fact, anyone can teach and speak any view about homosexuality.
However, when a person joins a learned profession and gets a state license to practice that profession, there are certain restrictions that come along with that choice.  Mental health professionals are not clergy. We have a role to enhance the mental health of our clients and curing non-existent diseases doesn’t seem to me to be a part of that mandate. If clergy need to speak against certain behaviors, that is their right and the state’s regulation of mental health professionals cannot stop them.
I do have sympathy for those clients who believe that their same-sex attractions result from some historical trauma. In fact, there is a very small subset of people for whom those factors might be relevant to an understanding of their overall personality, including their sexual interests. I also believe that those people can continue to receive therapy, under these laws, if the treatment is not framed as a direct effort to change orientation.
Ultimately, I believe this is an issue of regulation of mental health professionals and not one of religious liberty. Since there is no universe in which sexual orientation change efforts are effective, why would mental health professionals make space for them? The rare exceptions can be accommodated via other frameworks (e.g., identity exploration, trauma recovery). Religious views will continue to be shared and any challenge to them will not succeed. We can coexist.

For more information on helping non-affirming same-sex attracted people live in keeping with traditional sexual ethics without engaging in sexual orientation change efforts, see the following articles and websites:

Sexual Identity Therapy Framework
Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity
A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity (WSJ)
Living the Good Lie (NYT)
 

Yesterday, Liberty Counsel Celebrated Christian Freedom Day

Yesterday, like presidents before him, President Trump issued a proclamation commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s work in writing Virginia’s

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Statute for Religious Freedom (full text here) which was adopted by the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786. The law ended the establishment of the Anglican church in Virginia and recognized freedom of conscience in the state.
Jefferson meant for that freedom of conscience to extend beyond Christian denominations to all religions or none. However, ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel does not appear to recognize the breadth of Jefferson’s work. In their press release, the Statute on Religious Freedom is described as follows:

Religious Freedom Day is celebrated in America each year on January 16 to commemorate the 232nd anniversary of the passing of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all denominations. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and murdered Christians who were not part of the state-established church. However, Jefferson, a lifelong fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and religious conscience, worked hard to protect and defend those Christians. (emphasis added)

Liberty Counsel’s presser refers to denominations of Christianity and to Jefferson’s work to defend Christians. In the past, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver has questioned the status of Islam as a religious worthy of First Amendment protection. Staver is also of the David Barton school of thought regarding the First Amendment — that the purpose of it was to prevent a Christian denomination from being established. In other words, when the First Amendment says religion, it means Christianity.

What Did Jefferson Mean?

In fact, there was an effort in the Virginia legislature to limit the scope of Virginia’s statute to Christians during debate on the bill. Jefferson wrote about it in his autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

According to Jefferson, the effort did not succeed. He meant his religious freedom bill to cover all people, of all religious ideas or no religious ideas.

What Religious Freedom Really Means Now

Ultimately, religious freedom at this particular time for this particular group means the freedom to discriminate against people, usually GLBT people in providing public services. In general, I think those who provide services to the public should provide them to GLBT people, even if they personally disagree with some aspect of those they serve.
But that’s just me and my beliefs. I know others believe differently, and the beauty of this nation is that they are free to believe it. What we will find out over the next few years is if they are free to discriminate based on that belief.

Supreme Court Decision: Should Public Funds Help Build Church Playgrounds?

photo-1473261912432-55081882c1fb_optThe Supreme Court today said yes: if other nonprofits are eligible for state funds to refurbish a playground, a church shouldn’t be denied the same funds on account of being a church. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia MO v. Comer, the Court decided 7-2 that states may not discriminate when awarding such funds (read decision).
At issue was a ministry of Trinity Lutheran — their daycare — and funds which they wanted from MO for placing a rubber surface on the space. MO had a rule which eliminated churches on antiestablishment grounds. The court said the state could not refuse to provide funds to a nonprofit just because it was a church.
On the surface, this may seem like a win for churches, but I am not so sure what strings may be attached, nor does it seem wise for tax dollars to go to a church, even if the church uses those funds for playground resurfacing. Eventually, those dollars aid the church in religious purposes, it seems to me, which might not seem so bad when it is your church but might seem to be a problem when it isn’t.

What If Country Mill Farms Discriminated Based on Race?

City of East Lansing logoCountry Mill Farms and legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom is suing the City of East Lansing with a claim of religious discrimination. According to the complaint, the City of East Lansing acted to exclude “a farmer whose family farm is twenty-two miles outside the City from participating in its city-run farmers market solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.” CMF claims that the policy “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution as well as state law that prohibits Michigan cities from regulating activities outside city boundaries.”
Read the Country Mill Farms complaint here.
I want to raise a legal question with this post. I do so because I think the CMF situation may have a broader application to how Christians think about sexual orientation discrimination.

Background of the Country Mill Farms Case

The City of East Lansing includes sexual orientation in their non-discrimination statement.

It is hereby declared to be contrary to the public policy of the City of East Lansing for any person to deny any other person the enjoyment of his/her civil rights or for any person to discriminate against any other person in the exercise of his/her civil rights or to harass any person because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, height, weight, disability, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, student status, or because of the use by an individual of adaptive devices or aids.

CMF operates a farm outside the city limits of East Lansing. They sell produce throughout mid-Michigan and host weddings on their farm. For years, CMF sold produce at a farm market in the city limits of East Lansing without incident. However, after CMF publicly declared their practice of referring gay couples to other vendors for weddings, the City of East Lansing changed their policy regarding approval of vendors for space to sell produce at their farm market. After the change, the city required that vendors operating at the farm market adhere to the non-discrimination code in their “business practices.” On this basis, East Lansing denied CMF space at the farm market.
The ADF complaint alleges that the City of East Lansing refused to allow CMF to sell at the market “solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.” Via the town’s Facebook page, I asked if the city took action based on the owners’ beliefs or their business practices. In reply, they said:

[I]t’s about their business practice, not their religious beliefs. The issue is that, as part of their business practice, they do not serve all couples.

According to the complaint, CMF referred at least one couple in the past to another farm and then issued this statement on their Facebook page in December 2016:

This past fall our family farm stopped booking future wedding ceremonies at our orchard until we could devote the appropriate time to review our policies and how we respectfully communicate and express our beliefs. The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs. The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience. Furthermore, it remains our religious belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs or background. We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting wedding ceremonies at our family farm.

A court will decide if the City of East Lansing is discriminating based on the owners’ religious beliefs.

What If CMF’s Religious Beliefs Opposed Biracial Marriage?*

In all of these religious liberty cases, I have been wondering if Christians would rally to the side of religious liberty if the religious belief involved was to oppose biracial marriage. I have asked Alliance Defending Freedom three times if ADF would defend plaintiffs who refused to provide services to vendors who declined to serve biracial couples for religious reasons. To date, they have failed to answer. I asked CMF a similar question via CMF’s Facebook page, and they responded:

Thank you for your message.
You can follow the case at www.ADFLegal.org
God bless you!
Steve & Bridget Tennes

There are people who oppose biracial marriages on religious grounds. League of the South members run businesses; what if one of those people called on ADF to represent them in their religious liberty struggle?
I would like to address this as a matter of law. In the East Lansing ordinance, sexual orientation is listed along with race. Presumably, referring a biracial couple to another wedding vendor would be considered racial discrimination, even if for religious reasons. As a matter of law, how is it different to refer a gay couple? What if the CMF Facebook post said the following — It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman of the same race and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs? Would ADF defend them? Would Christian pundits write columns defending their religious liberties?
If the City of East Lansing is telling me the truth, CMF would be able to sell produce at the farm market if they served all couples, even if they ADF logoexpressed publicly their disapproval of gay marriage. In the public square, I submit that the image on the coin is Caesar’s and that Christians should give to Caesar what is his. However, belief can submit to no earthly authority as a matter of conscience. If Christians want to follow Jesus’ teaching regarding our public involvement in jurisdictions with anti-discrimination laws which include sexual orientation, I don’t know how we can offer our services to some and not to others. Believe what you need to believe, but serve everyone as required by law.
I still hope ADF will address this matter and provide their rationale for taking cases like CMF and Arlene’s Flowers if they won’t take the case of a League of the South member with religious beliefs opposing biracial marriages. Open discussion about these cases may take us closer to an ethical position which allows us to honor our religious loyalties while properly discharging our duties as citizens.
 
*Let me be absolutely clear. I do not believe CMF discriminates based on race, nor do I have any evidence that they would refuse to sell produce to anyone. I raise an analogy and seek opinions about why religious belief should trump anti-discrimination law for one class of persons but not for another.