US: Judge says Tampa conversion therapy ban violates First Amendment free-speech rights

A federal magistrate judge this week recommended that a ban on conversion therapy in Tampa be partially blocked, arguing it violates therapists' free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

A pair of licensed marriage and family therapists, along with a Christian ministry organization, sued the city of Tampa over an ordinance adopted in April 2017 that barred mental health professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, a highly controversial practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The therapists, represented by the conservative Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel, argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it prohibited them from taking part in “speech” through their counseling, simply because city officials disagree with the content of that speech.

Amanda Arnold Sansone, a magistrate judge in Tampa, said in an opinion Wednesday that the plaintiffs — Robert Vazzo, David Pickup and New Hearts Outreach — sufficiently demonstrated a likelihood of success with their arguments that the ordinance violates their free-speech rights. The judge also said the city presented no evidence of minors being harmed by conversion therapy counseling within city limits.

Arnold Sansone recommended a limited injunction against enforcing the ban on “non-coercive” sexual orientation conversion efforts that consist entirely of “talk therapy." Under her recommendation, conversion-therapy techniques that are “aversive,” such as electroshock therapy, would still be banned. Her report will be sent to a federal district judge, who will issue a ruling.

The magistrate judge’s opinion, constitutional law experts say, is unusual because it runs contrary to two circuit court opinions that have upheld conversion-therapy bans in California and New Jersey. Her position implies that speech by medical professionals should fall under the same First Amendment protections as any other speech. Read more via Washington Post