Americans United Says ‘Religious Liberty’ Does Not Justify Performing Harmful ‘Reparative’ Therapy On Minors

New Jersey Law Rightly Protects Children From Anti-Gay Counseling, Church-State Watchdog Tells Federal Court

The doctrine of religious freedom does not give licensed therapists the right to perform damaging “reparative” therapy on minors, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a friend-of-the-court brief submitted today in King v. Christie, Americans United told the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state of New Jersey has a duty to protect children from harmful health care, even if that care is given in the name of religion. 

“There is clear evidence that so-called ‘reparative’ therapy has no scientific basis,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Religion should never be an excuse to force something damaging on anyone, especially children.”

In August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that bans state-licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors. But a coalition that includes the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association of Christian Counselors challenged the law, claiming that they have a First Amendment right to perform “reparative” therapy on children.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey rejected those claims in November, with Judge Freda Wolfson concluding that the new law “restricts neither speech nor religious expression.”  

Americans United urged the appeals court to uphold the lower court’s decision, explaining in its brief that government has the right to intervene when religious beliefs replace sound science as the basis for making health-care decisions.     

“The law draws a clear distinction between science and religion,” reads the brief. “Religion lays no more claim to the practice of medicine than it does to natural science.…”

Elsewhere it asserts, “History reveals countless examples of harmful or ineffective treatments being delivered by charlatans for financial gain or by sincere practitioners professing divine inspiration.” 

The brief was written for Americans United by the legal firm Patton Boggs LLP with input from Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan.  

“Religion provides no safe harbor for those who would expose minors to dangerous therapies,” Khan said. “The appeals court should uphold New Jersey’s sensible and prudent law.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.