Few things could be more intrusive than government officials censoring speech inside private religious counseling sessions.
But that’s exactly what New York City public officials did until Tuesday.
Thanks to the efforts of the religious-liberties watchdog Alliance Defending Freedom and an orthodox Jewish psychotherapist, the city was forced to repeal an unconstitutional First Amendment ordinance that targeted conservative religious groups and sexual orientation counseling.
The city—more aptly, taxpayers—will also pay $100,000 to reimburse the ADF and psychotherapist Dr. Dovid Schwartz for legal costs.
“All New Yorkers and all Americans deserve the right to private conversations, free from government control,” said ADF senior counsel Roger Brooks after the hard-fought victory.
In 2018, the city council adopted a law making it illegal 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.”
The law was a one-way street, according to Brooks.
It did not prohibit sexual orientation counseling if it encouraged same-sex lifestyles or gender transition, only heterosexual-oriented counseling.
The law also threatened willing adult patients and religious counselors with financial ruin. Fines were $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 for first, second and subsequent violations.
ADF and Dr. Schwartz sued based on Schwartz’s 50 years of religious counseling experience and the blatantly unconstitutional nature of the speech and religion violations.
In Schwartz v. City of New York, Schwartz asserted that he has regularly encountered and served patients who want his help overcoming same-sex attraction.
“Because of their religious beliefs and personal life goals, clients who seek his counsel often desire to experience opposite-sex attraction so they can marry, form a natural family and live consistently with their Orthodox Jewish faith,” an ADF statement said.
“While the city eventually saw the writing on the wall and reversed course, it needlessly cost the taxpayers of New York tens of thousands of dollars for enacting its unconstitutional policy in the first place, because Dr. Schwartz was forced to go to court to protect his rights,” said Brooks.
Brooks also warned other public officials not to repeat New York City’s error or he’d see them in court.