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Christian Group Vows to Fight New Jersey's Ban on Gay Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy for Minors

( [email protected] ) Sep 12, 2014 01:08 PM EDT
A federal appeals court panel recently announced it will uphold New Jersey's law banning sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay and lesbian minors. A Christian litigation group has said it will fight the ruling until the laws are "relegated to the dustbins of history."
Gay rights activist demonstrate outside San Francisco City Hall in California (Josh Edelson/AFP)

A Christian nonprofit litigation group has said it will 'continue fighting' as federal appeals court panel announced it will uphold New Jersey's law banning sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay and lesbian minors.

The Huffington Post reports that three judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in King v. Christie that while they held some disagreement with an earlier district court decision, they still affirmed the decision against the plaintiffs.

At issue at hand was New Jersey's A3371, a law passed in 2013 with strong bipartisan support, which bans conversion therapy for LGBT minors.

"Although we reject the district court's conclusion that A3371 prohibits only 'conduct' that is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment, we uphold the statute as a regulation of professional speech that passes intermediate scrutiny," read the majority opinion.

"We agree with the district court that A3371 does not violate plaintiffs' right to free exercise of religion, as it is a neutral and generally applicable law that is rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

The case was The legal challenge was pursued by Tara King and Ronald Newman, licensed counselors and founders of Christian counseling centers in New Jersey, and two organizations, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association of Christian Counselors.

Their attorney, Mathew Staver of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case or for a rehearing because the judges used a different standard for scrutinizing the counselors' professional speech than Ninth Circuit judges did for a similar case in California.

"Neither one of them are correct. I think it needs to be strict scrutiny because the court in this case found that it was clearly a content-based restriction. They even said it was potentially viewpoint-based but ultimately concluded that in the context of professional speech, viewpoint-based restrictions are not protected. That's a novel conclusion," Staver said.

The Liberty Counsel, also released a statement Thursday revealing that an appeal to the United States Supreme Court was being considered.

"The laws banning counseling in this area are simply unconstitutional violations of free speech," stated the Liberty Counsel.

"Liberty Counsel will ask the Supreme Court to review this decision, and we will not stop fighting until these laws are relegated to the dustbins of history."

The Third Circuit panel concluded that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to sue the government over the law, given that minors could sue on their own behalf as in previous unrelated cases.

"... the fact that minor clients have previously filed suit bolsters our conclusion that they are not sufficiently hindered in their ability to protect their own interests. Accordingly, we hold that plaintiffs lack standing to pursue claims on behalf of their minor clients," wrote the panel.

Introduced by New Jersey Assemblyman Timothy J. Eustace in 2012, A3371 passed both houses of the legislature with overwhelming support.

In August 2013, Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law after weeks of public uncertainty on the matter.

At the time, LGBT organizations praised A3371 as a way to protect gay youth while many parents and conservative groups said it infringed on both parental and religious rights.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ruled in favor of A3371in the case King v. Christie and then again last month the similar suit Doe v. Christie.

"Plaintiffs Jack and Jane Doe contend that their fundamental right to care for their son, John Doe, is infringed ... because it prevents them from making decisions concerning their child's mental, emotional and physical health," wrote Wolfson in August.

"Plaintiffs provide no case law or other authority in support of the proposition that Jack and Jane Doe's fundamental parental rights encompass the right to choose for their son any medical treatment they desire."

LGBT group Garden State Equality Executive Director Andrea Bowen called the latest decision a"major victory."

"The court's decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices," stated Bowen.

"No one should subject minors to conversion therapy - least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients."