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Court rules ban on conversion therapy in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton violates first amendment

On November 20, a federal appeals court ruled that Palm Beach County and the city of Boca Raton have violated the First Amendment right of free speech in the U.S. Constitution by banning therapists from practicing “conversion therapy” on minors. Conversion therapy aims to change their sexual orientation.

In 2017, the county and city passed ordinances which ban medical providers from treating minors with “any counseling, practice or treatment performed with the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Two licensed marriage and family therapists, Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, argue that the ordinances violate the First Amendment and prevent them from speaking freely with clients.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with Otto and Hamilton, ruling that the ordinances “violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”

Otto and Hamilton said their goal is to provide “sexual orientation change efforts” through speech therapy.

The court ruled that “this decision allows speech that many find concerning—even dangerous. But consider the alternative. If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful. And the same goes for gender transition—counseling supporting a client’s gender identification could be banned.”

It’s unclear how this ruling will immediately impact the bans on conversion therapy in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton.