WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Monday turned down a Christian group's free-speech challenge to the laws in California and 21 other states that forbid licensed counselors from using "conversion therapy" with children and teenagers.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed dissents, and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said he also voted to hear the case.
"There is a fierce public debate over how best to help minors with gender dysphoria," Thomas said, and states such as Washington and California have "silenced one side of this debate."
But a majority of the other justices disagreed, and refused to hear a case that challenged the states' laws. It marked the fourth time since 2014 that the court has refused to hear such a case.
Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, argued states should not be permitted to "censor" counselors who espouse Christian values.
They appealed to challenge a Washington state law they said violates marriage and family counselor Brian Tingley's rights to the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
Tingley "helps clients with various issues, including sexuality and gender identity," the ADF lawyers said in their petition to the court. "A practicing Christian, Tingley grounds human identity in God's design rather than a person's feelings or wishes. Many of his clients agree and seek his counsel precisely because they want to align their identity with their faith."
The law at issue prohibits licensed counselors from using "a regime that seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity." State lawmakers said this "therapy" was proven to be ineffective and significantly increased the risk of suicide among young people.
When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California's first-in-the-nation law in 2014, it ruled the state had broad authority to regulate the practice of medicine and "professional speech" about medical treatments.
The appeals court applied the same rule in upholding Washington's law last year. "States do not lose the power to regulate the safety of medical treatments performed under the authority of a state license merely because those treatments are implemented through speech rather than through scalpel," wrote Judge Ronald Gould. "As of 2015, every major medical, psychiatric, psychological, and professional mental health organization opposes the use of conversion therapy," he added.
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