A conversion therapy ban has created a real-life David vs. Goliath situation in New York City.
In late 2017, the New York City Council adopted a law making it illegal for any person to provide services for a fee that "seek to change a person's sexual orientation or seek to change a person's gender identity to conform to the sex of such individual that was recorded at birth."
Dr. Dovid Schwartz, an Orthodox Jewish psychotherapist, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city for violating his freedom of speech and infringing on his religious faith and that of his patients.
"The government doesn't belong in a therapist's office," says attorney Jeana Hallock of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the organization representing Dr. Schwartz. "Our client has been practicing for more than four decades. His clients are almost exclusively coming from the Orthodox Jewish community, and so they really value his shared faith, and this law violated their freedom to speak within a very private relationship."
Many people reading this story may not be Jewish, but Hallock says that does not matter.
"Tolerance and respect for faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society," she explains. "They enable us to peacefully coexist, and it's what the First Amendment protects. The government has to respect the freedom for all of us to discuss beliefs about human sexuality, and that would include beliefs that are shared by Muslims, Christians, and our Jewish client in this case."
Violators of the law face a threat of up to $10,000 in fines per patient.
By contrast, counseling that steers a patient toward a gender identity different than his or her physical body is permitted. Unlike other existing counseling censorship laws, New York City's is unprecedented in its reach—extending to the counseling of willing adult patients. Other laws involve minors.
"This is a stressful situation," adds Hallock. "Dr. Schwartz is doing well, but of course we're hoping to be able to protect his free speech rights and the rights of his clients to pursue the lives that they want to live."