Court OK’s State Restrictions on Counseling, Pastors

San Francisco, CA–A federal court of appeals this morning upheld restrictions on what some pastors can say to minors struggling with their sexuality and gender. 
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco again upheld California’s controversial Senate Bill 1172.  SB 1172 bars licensed counselors from assisting youth who want to change or reduce same-sex attractions.  The law also prohibits counseling that would steer youth away from gender confusion.  

Pacific Justice Institute filed suit against SB 1172 in 2012 and initially won a preliminary injunction based on free speech.  Eventually, the Ninth Circuit created a new approach to free speech that deemed what was said during counseling to be unprotected.     
The case returned to the Ninth Circuit on religious freedom and privacy claims that had not been previously ruled upon by that court.  PJI’s lead plaintiff is both an ordained minister and a licensed marriage and family therapist who oversees a counseling ministry in his church.  PJI pointed out that the law would reach within the four walls of the church to prohibit what could be said during counseling by a pastor who is also an LMFT.  
The Ninth Circuit today waved off concerns about state interference with religious doctrine, while declining to discuss legal authorities raised by PJI that have previously rejected state interference with church counseling. 
PJI had also pointed the court to dozens of passages from the legislative record that directly attacked conservative religious viewpoints.  According to PJI attorney Kevin Snider, who argued the case at the Ninth Circuit, “The court today simply rewrote legislative history to avoid the uncomfortable reality that the California Legislature unabashedly targeted religious beliefs with this bill.”  
Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “We are deeply disappointed by today’s ruling because it represents a giant step backwards for religious freedom.  A government that can tell a pastor what he can and cannot say during counseling is a government that can tell a pastor what parts of the Bible are off-limits.   The court also reminded us today that this law lays the groundwork for further restrictions on parental rights.”
PJI will be reviewing all options for appeal with their clients.