- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey’s ban on so-called gay conversion therapy was upheld by a federal appeals court, though the three-judge panel took issue with a key aspect of a lower court’s ruling.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower-court ruling in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban filed by two associations and two licensed therapists who practice what are called “sexual orientation change efforts,” referred to in court filings by the acronym SOCE.

A federal judge in Trenton had dismissed the lawsuit in November, rejecting plaintiffs’ claims that the law violates their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. This summer, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson also dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by a New Jersey couple who said their constitutional rights were violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son.

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

In its ruling Thursday, the appeals court upheld the ban, though it disagreed with the district court’s definition of verbal communication during therapy sessions as conduct, not speech that could be protected under the First Amendment.

Despite concluding that “the verbal communications that occur during SOCE counseling are not ‘conduct,’ but rather ‘speech’ for purposes of the First Amendment,” the appeals court held that speech that occurs as part of the practice of a licensed profession, particularly involving physical or mental health, is not fully protected.

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