- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Washington marriage and family counselor asked the Supreme Court this week to hear his challenge to a state law that punishes therapists and counselors who advise against gender transitioning for youth in accordance with religious beliefs.

Brian Tingley is a Christian who counsels clients in accordance with his faith, believing people are born with their biological sex. His clients often seek his guidance to align the counseling with their religion.

But Washington’s 2018 law, aimed to ban conversion therapy for minors, prohibits licensed professionals from encouraging individuals to “change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Should Mr. Tingley violate the law, he could be fined $5,000 and even have his license revoked.

“The government can’t control a counselor’s speech. Washington’s counseling censorship law violates freedom of speech and harms counselors as well as clients,” said John Bursch, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm representing Mr. Tingley.

Brian has counseled all types of people for more than 20 years, and those conversations are private—certainly not open for the government to censor. The government has no business dictating what personal goals a client can pursue in counseling,” Mr. Bursch added.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September for the state, upholding the law. It reasoned that speech by medical professionals was conduct that the government could regulate.

Mr. Tingley’s lawyers say that the ruling conflicts with the Supreme Court’s holding in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a decision in 2018  that said a California law mandating crisis pregnancy centers offer information related to abortion violated the First Amendment.

Roughly two dozen states have laws aimed at preventing conversion therapy. The reason behind the legislation is to protect an individual’s physical and physiological health, according to advocates against conversion therapy, who say it causes depression and can lead to addictive and compulsive behavior.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has defended the state’s law, saying the conversion therapy doesn’t work and that the 9th Circuit delivered a victory for civil rights upholding the law.

“It is deeply wrong and harmful to deny young people their identity. Today’s ruling protects LGBTQ+ youth from this practice,” he said on Facebook last September, celebrating the appeals court ruling.

“‘Conversion therapy’ means psychological interventions that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” he added.

His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the appeal.

The case is Tingley v. Ferguson. It would take at least four justices to vote in favor of hearing the case.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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