David Schwartz, Orthodox Jewish therapist, challenges New York City’s ban on gay conversion therapy
A Brooklyn psychotherapist who says he has helped men overcome same-sex attraction is suing New York City over its ban on gay conversion therapy, saying the city’s prohibition is too broad and violates his religious liberty.
David Schwartz has been a professional counselor for 40 years. He is also an Orthodox Jew who says some of his clients also Orthodox Jews have been helped by him to resist sexual desires they find incongruent with their faith.
The city’s year-old ban applies to adult and adolescent patients, and calls for a $1,000 fine for a first violation, $5,000 for a second and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a state ban that applies only to adolescents.
Attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit that advocates religious freedom, filed a lawsuit Wednesday on Mr. Schwartz’s behalf in the U.S. Eastern District Court of New York.
“Dr. Schwartz fears that he may be the target of an enforcement action under the newly enacted Counseling Censorship Law,” the lawsuit states. “This knowledge in turn inevitably chills what should be a free and unfettered confidential conversation between psychotherapist and patient concerning deeply personal feelings and decisions, where candor is crucial.”
The city’s ban defines conversion therapy as “any services, offered or provided to consumers 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.”
Fifteen states ban conversion therapy, with most of them barring the practice on children, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Several cities and counties also ban the practice, which has existed since at least the 19th century to supposedly “cure” gay people of same-sex desires.
Critics of conversion therapy say practitioners not only seek to treat an ailment that doesn’t exist (homosexuality was delisted as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973) but actually leads to bizarre “treatments.”
Mr. Schwartz’s lead attorney, Roger Brooks, says his client isn’t practicing conversion therapy “with its strange regimens.” Mr. Brooks said the psychotherapist simply talks with clients, and the desire to experience sexual attraction to an individual of the opposite sex can often arise.
“It’s a very straightforward claim,” Mr. Brooks said in a phone interview. “The government has no right to enter the psychotherapist’s office and forbid a private conversation between two consenting adults.”
According to the lawsuit, clients freely walk into Mr. Schwartz’s office and express the wish to have spouses, raise children and live lives consistent with their interpretation of Torah teachings. Mr. Schwartz doesn’t advertise and often gets referrals from rabbis.
While Mr. Schwartz has yet to be fined, he has been fearful of punitive actions. His lawsuit seeks an injunction against the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas, whose agency warned that “anonymous informants” were being recruited to report on conversion therapists.
Clinton Anderson, director of the American Psychological Association’s Office on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, said the clinical community opposes conversion therapies because a “religious framework” often supersedes a scientific understanding of human sexuality and prevents a person from being able to “explore truly what is right for them.”
“If a person, as a private person, has a religious person [who] wants to talk with someone and very directly help them to stay and live with consistency [to] the religion that they share, that’s entirely protected under the Constitution,” Mr. Anderson said in a phone interview. “But if that person is a licensed psychotherapist or psychologist or counselor and they’re licensed by the state, the state does have the appropriate role in making [sure] that the services they’re providing are not biased and not deceptive.”
Conversion therapy proponents argue that prohibitions amount to a violation of religious liberty and a therapist’s right to practice their profession.