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Supreme Court lets stand Washington state 'conversion therapy' ban for LGBTQ+ minors

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge to a ban on "conversion therapy" for minors, avoiding an appeal from a Christian marriage and family counselor who said the prohibition violated his First Amendment rights.

The scientifically discredited practice is used to try to “convert” LGBTQ+ people to heterosexuality or to change a person's gender identity. Washington state passed a law in 2018 barring licensed therapists from engaging in the practice with patients under 18 − joining roughly half of U.S. states with similar laws.

By declining to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court left in place a decision from an appeals court that upheld the law. As is common, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasoning for denying the appeal.

Three conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, said they would have granted the appeal.

Under the Washington law, Thomas wrote, "licensed counselors can speak with minors about gender dysphoria, but only if they convey the state-approved message of encouraging minors to explore their gender identities. Expressing any other message is forbidden − even if the counselor’s clients ask for help to accept their biological sex."

That, Thomas wrote, "is viewpoint-based and content-based discrimination in its purest form."

Brian Tingley, a licensed family counselor, argued that the law censors the conversations he has with his clients and he told the Supreme Court that violated his free speech and religious rights.  The law, he told the court, “forbids him from speaking, treating his professional license as a license for government censorship.”

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A U.S. District court in Washington dismissed the case in 2021. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided against him last year.

“States do not lose the power to regulate the safety of medical treatments performed under the authority of a state license merely because those treatments are implemented through speech rather than through scalpel,” U.S. Circuit Judge Ronald Gould wrote for the appeals court.

Joseph Fons holding a Pride Flag, stands in front of the Supreme Court in 2020 after the court ruled that LGBTQ+ people cannot be disciplined or fired based on their sexual orientation.
Joseph Fons holding a Pride Flag, stands in front of the Supreme Court in 2020 after the court ruled that LGBTQ+ people cannot be disciplined or fired based on their sexual orientation.

Tingley is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been involved in several high-profile lawsuits pitting religious and First Amendment claims against LGBTQ+ rights. Last year, ADF represented a designer, Lorie Smith, who wanted to decline to make wedding websites for same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court in June sided with Smith 6-3 along ideological lines.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court declines case challenging 'conversion therapy' bans