Op-Ed: Anti-Conversion Therapy Legislation Could Limit Faith-Based Counselors
The following op-ed is written by Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.
Last week, The New York Times reported on a Kentucky Senate bill banning conversion therapy, a controversial technique whose extreme practitioners employ abusive practices to force change on those struggling with various sexual orientations.
The bipartisan bill—SB 85, sponsored by four Kentucky State Senators from Lexington and Louisville, was called a ban on "conversion torture" by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) and linked to teen suicide.
Concern for teenage emotional health is a real concern as suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. Efforts to affirm the dignity and value of our children should be applauded, but SB 85 goes further than restricting demeaning and abusive practices. Such practices are highlighted in the 2018 movie Boy Erased, which is based on the true story of homosexual teenaged boy whose parents enroll him in a crazy conversion therapy program whose dogmatic and unloving "Christian" leader treats him more like Lucifer than Jesus would.
Hollywood knows how to tell a good story but often falls short of the truth when directors create straw men and paint an entire religion in a certain light. The same is true for SB 85, which colors sexual boundaries as unhealthy by highlighting abusive counselors and fringe activity that many Christians denounce as hurtful and contrary to Christian principles.
Specifically, SB 85 prohibits state licensed therapists from counseling minors or wards of the state from changing their sexual orientation. It would also ban public funding to any organization that counsels minors to turn from homosexuality or transgenderism. State Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville) co-sponsored HB 199, the House companion bill to SB 85 which has 23 Democratic sponsors and said “This is a practice that attempts to fix something that was never broken. It's a practice that targets some of our most vulnerable and disenfranchised youth."
Rep. Wilner makes a significant worldview claim with widespread implications. The Christian worldview is that we're all broken, just in different ways. SB 85 implies that a minor's sexual orientation is perfect, that it cannot change, and is beyond moral argument. The bill further threatens to punish those who counsel change—even respectful, dignity-affirming counseling.
Should minor children in the Commonwealth really be without adult guidance when determining their sexual identity? SB 85 ignores kids who are unhappy with their sexual orientation and desire change. A wholesale ban implies that nobody could benefit from counseling based on Biblical principles and prayer to find spiritual freedom from unwanted sexual attractions and desires.
SB 85 also prohibits pastoral counselors who charge for their services or Biblically-based counseling services. There are several such faith-based counseling services licensed by the state who would have their ministries limited if not jeopardized altogether. Consider Freedom Counseling in Louisville which, according to its website "partner(s) with the Holy Spirit to help connect you with the heart of God, which is the source of all healing, hope and transformation."
SB 85 and HB 199 contain sweeping implications that go much further than the sponsors may have intended. The point that is sadly missed is that we can love and affirm and support our children struggling with their sexuality while at the same time guiding them to the good, the true, and the beautiful of life choices that lead to wholeness and flourishing. If the bill passes, many professional faith-based counselors will no longer be allowed to have those conversations.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center. He and his family reside in Cadiz.