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New Study Released Showing No Proof of Harm from Such Therapy
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Family Research Council (FRC) today praised the recent decision by a federal appeals court striking down two local ordinances banning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for minors. In the case of Otto v. City of Boca Raton, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled on November 20 that "these ordinances are content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech," and thus "violate the First Amendment."
Both the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County in Florida had enacted laws similar to those in several states and other localities across the country, prohibiting what critics of the practice sometimes call "conversion therapy" for minors, on the argument that such therapy is harmful to clients.
However, FRC also released today an Issue Analysis based upon a literature review of 79 academic sources purported to show "measures of harm" from SOCE. As FRC Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg documents in the report, none of the 79 studies provide scientific proof that SOCE is more harmful than other forms of therapy, more harmful than other courses of action for those with same-sex attractions, or more likely to be harmful than helpful for the average client.
Sprigg has written papers showing that sexual orientation can change, that SOCE therapy can be effective and is not usually harmful, and that even pro-LGBT sources have undermined the case for therapy bans.
"Legal restrictions upon the voluntary pursuit of, and assistance with, sexual orientation change represent an assault upon both freedom of speech and freedom of religion," said Sprigg regarding Friday's court ruling. "I hope this court decision marks the beginning of the end for these unconstitutional infringements on personal autonomy."
The two licensed marriage and family therapists who brought the suit, Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, were represented by Liberty Counsel. The court's decision was written by Judge Britt C. Grant, with Judge Barbara Lagoa concurring. Judge Beverly B. Martin wrote in dissent.
The 11th Circuit decision was foreshadowed by comments in a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision, NIFLA v. Becerra, dealing with California's efforts to regulate speech by pro-life pregnancy centers. In the course of rejecting the argument that governments can regulate "professional speech" without offending the First Amendment, the Supreme Court directly criticized earlier appeals court decisions that had made the same argument in upholding state therapy bans. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that "this Court has not recognized 'professional speech' as a separate category of speech. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by 'professionals.'"