Saturday, November 21, 2020

11th Circuit Strikes Down Conversion Therapy Ban

 In Otto v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, (11th Cir., Nov. 20, 2020), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, struck down city and county ordinances in Florida that ban therapists from engaging in counseling or therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexual orientation, reducing a minor’s sexual or romantic attractions, or changing a minor’s gender identity or expression. Support to minors undergoing gender transition, however is permitted. The majority said in part:

We understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech. We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny...

This decision allows speech that many find concerning—even dangerous. But consider the alternative. If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful.... People have intense moral, religious, and spiritual views about these matters—on all sides. And that is exactly why the First Amendment does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.

Judge Martin, dissenting, said in part:

The majority is correct to say this case implicates sensitive considerations about when and how government bodies may regulate speech. Instances in which a speech restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest are deservedly rare. But they do exist.... I believe the Localities’ narrow regulation of a harmful medical practice affecting vulnerable minors falls within the narrow band of permissibility.

Palm Beach Post reports on the decision.