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Religious Liberty | Therapists and clients get a reprieve from the California Assembly
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 9/04/18, 04:31 pm

The California Assembly on Friday temporarily shelved a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” for homosexual and transgender adults. Opponents of Assembly Bill 2943 thanked its author, openly gay Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low, for withdrawing the bill that threatened Californians’ free speech and religious liberty rights.

After passing easily in both chambers, the bill needed only one final vote in the Assembly before going to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. But Low said productive conversations with religious leaders convinced him more discussion was needed.

The reprieve may be short-lived—Low, determined to end what he called the “fraudulent practice of conversion therapy,” promised to resurrect it.

“I am committed to continuing to work towards creating a policy that best protects and celebrates the identities of LGBT Californians,” Low said in a statement on his legislative website.

Crafted as an amendment to the state’s consumer protection law, AB 2943 would have made advertising or providing services for “sexual orientation change efforts” fraudulent business practices, leaving therapists open to lawsuits. Volunteer counselors, like pastors, were not subject to the law.

“AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation,” said Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council.

While the bill remains inactive, Low told the Los Angeles Times he wanted to “engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations” to craft his legislation. Ironically, Low’s bill would have restricted therapist-client relationships and conversations.

During a June Senate committee hearing, former lesbian, gay, and transgender Californians bristled at the “fraudulent” label describing their transformed lives.

Elizabeth Woning, co-founder of the Christian Equipped to Love ministry, told senators she lived openly as a lesbian while in seminary and, as a pastor, advanced the gay-affirming church movement. But a perspective-altering “encounter with Jesus,” in addition to unaddressed sexual abuse as a child and young adult, pressed Woning into therapy.

“None of the secular counseling I received removed the trauma of those experiences,” she said. “By affirming my sexuality as a lesbian, that counseling never delved under the surface of judgments and agreements that empowered the comfort I felt in the arms of another woman. My faith did.”

By blocking access to goods and services that question sexuality, Woning told senators, “Women with #MeToo experiences such as mine may never find resolution.”

The Senate passed an amended version of the bill that removed a ban on goods, including books, that promoted sexual orientation change before sending it back to the Assembly on Aug. 16 for a final vote. But the bill languished in the Assembly for two weeks before Low withdrew it Friday.

AB 2943 opponents such as Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, believe Low recognized the bill would not pass constitutional scrutiny since it held therapists’ “professional speech” in low regard. Dacus and other attorneys were prepared to take the state of California to court if AB 2943 became law.

While grateful for the reprieve, Dacus said Low’s commitment to advancing the counseling ban was disconcerting.

The bill threatened free speech and religious exercise rights, and any reworking of the measure must not repeat the same mistakes, Dacus said, adding that members of the California legislative LGBT caucus must appreciate that not all same-sex attracted Californians embrace the gay, lesbian, or transgender identity.

“If we can reach that point, then we can come to real, long-term resolutions when it comes to mutual respect and protection of everyone’s rights,” Dacus said.

Facebook/Ft Lauderdale Food Not Bombs Facebook/Ft Lauderdale Food Not Bombs A Food Not Bombs food share in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in September 2017

Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven

While not quoting the Pillsbury Doughboy directly in its Aug. 22 decision, a three-judge panel of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hinted at a shared conviction: Because sharing meals speaks volumes, feeding the homeless is protected speech.

The 3-0 decision settles, for now, a dispute between the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a food-sharing group, Food Not Bombs. The city’s 2014 ordinance regulating public food distribution clashed with the political activists’ routine of dishing out vegan and vegetarian meals to the city’s homeless in a downtown park. The 11th Circuit overturned a decision by a lower court and ordered a judge reconsider whether language in the contested city and park ordinances was “unconstitutionally vague.”

“Providing food in a visible public space, and partaking in meals that are shared with others, is an act of political solidarity meant to convey the organization’s message,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote.

The court “recognized sharing food with another human being is one of the oldest forms of human expression,” said Kirsten Anderson, an attorney with the Southern Legal Counsel, which represented the activists. —B.P.

iStock.com/Photo by kzenon iStock.com/Photo by kzenon

States support funeral home sued over definition of ‘sex’

Fifteen states joined a Nebraska friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of a Detroit funeral home owner sued for firing a male employee after the employee requested permission to present himself as a woman at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against the Christian business owner, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the employee’s favor by redefining the terms of the debate.

The funeral home owner appealed to the Supreme Court on July 20.

The amicus brief asks the high court to overturn the 6th Circuit’s expansion of the definition of “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include gender identity: “The States’ purpose is to note that ‘sex’ under the plain terms of Title VII does not mean anything other than biological status. Unless and until Congress affirmatively acts, the 6th Circuit ignored this fact and essentially rewrote federal law, engaging in policy experimentation.” —B.P.

Supreme Court denies adoption agency plea

By a 5-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday kept in place the city of Philadelphia’s embargo of Catholic Social Services from its pool of adoption and foster care agencies. The court’s two-sentence reply to the charity’s 47-page injunction plea keeps the ban in place as the charity’s lawsuit against the city goes before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this fall.

In an unusual move, the denial noted three justices—Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas—would have granted the injunction application.

“We hoped for a different decision today, but we are encouraged that three justices agreed that we had an ‘indisputably clear right to relief’ in order to help foster parents to continue serving children in need,” said Lori Windham, a Becket attorney representing Catholic Social Services.

The Philadelphia City Council removed Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services from its roster of foster and adoption agencies after discovering the charities operated by Biblical standards that prohibited them from placing children with same-sex couples. Catholic Social Services sued the city for reinstatement, while Bethany agreed to comport to city standards and place children with same-sex parents. —B.P.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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