Orthodox Therapists Battle Ban On Gay 'Conversion' Treatment

Nefesh, Agudah Claim N.J. Law Infringes On Free Speech

Not OK: Rabbi Benzion Sorotzkin says it’s a myth that some people are born gay.
Courtesy of Benzion Sorotzkin
Not OK: Rabbi Benzion Sorotzkin says it’s a myth that some people are born gay.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 25, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
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Ultra-Orthodox mental health professionals are pushing back against efforts to restrict so-called gay “conversion” therapy, a controversial practice that aims to curb or reverse patients’ same-sex attraction.

Amid a growing wave of legislation banning conversion therapy for teenagers, a group known as Nefesh has joined with the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America to challenge a New Jersey law prohibiting use of this therapy with minors.

Rabbi Mordechai Biser, Agudath Israel’s general counsel, said his organization swung into action after receiving requests from Orthodox therapists who “pleaded with us to take whatever steps we could to prevent this legislation from being enacted.”

But even some members of the group supporting the challenge are glum about their prospects.

“I cannot say I’m terribly optimistic,” said Nathan “Nosson“ Solomon, a New York therapist and former president of Nefesh, which brings together Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals. “People are scared, the atmosphere is very hostile.”

Nefesh and the Agudah supported an appeal challenging the New Jersey state ban in an amicus brief they filed January 22 with the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Similar legislation has also become law in California. Under these laws, a licensed therapist who subjects minors to conversion therapy can lose his license and face other penalties. Bills of this kind have also been introduced in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

In California, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the state’s ban on conversion therapies in a ruling issued in early February. The California law, the court found, merely regulates “professional conduct” and thus was not protected by the First Amendment. The plaintiff’s lawyers have announced their intention to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In their briefs against the New Jersey law, Nefesh and the Agudah argued that the ban “impermissibly infringed” on the right of free speech. The law, which bans therapists from offering counseling to minors that seeks to “eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same sex,” singles out one “particular viewpoint on that subject,” for restriction the two groups argued, “namely that sexual orientation, behavior or identity can change.”


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