A socially conservative group on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Jersey that seeks to overturn the state’s ban on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law this week.
The Liberty Counsel filed the 46-page complaint before the U.S. District Court of New Jersey against Christie, who signed a law on Monday barring sexual orientation conversation therapy for minors within his state, as well as other state officials.
The lawsuit alleges the law violates freedoms of speech and religion under the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutions. Additionally, the lawsuit contends the law violates parental rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian counselors who practice sexual orientation conversion therapy and two fringe psychological groups that have endorsed it: the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, and the American Association of Christian Counselors.
“This law went into full effect immediately, upon being signed by Governor Christie on August 19, 2013, and thus time is of the essence to obtain judicial relief because plaintiffs, their clients, and the members of the plaintiff associations are currently suffering immediate and irreparable injury to their most cherished constitutional liberties,” the filing states.
Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement on the day the lawsuit was filed that the law is “a tyrannical overreach of government authority.”
“With this law, parents may face Child Protective Services investigating their home and even law enforcement taking their children if they seek change therapy,” he said said.
“Ex-gay” conversion is widely discredited and refuted by major mainstream psychological groups, such as American Psychological Association. In June, the largest ex-gay group, Exodus International, closed its doors after its executive director Alan Chambers issued an apology acknowledging “the pain and hurt others have experienced” through failed attempts at conversion therapy.
Still, plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend its effective. One of the plaintiff counselors, Tara King, identified as a lesbian and was in a same-sex relationship between the ages of 19 and 23. But after attending ex-gay conversion therapy at Exodus International, she, according to the complaint, left “the homosexual lifestyle 23 years ago and has experienced the change and reform that her Christian faith has brought into her life.”
King, who holds a Masters Degree in Christian counseling from Liberty University, in 2000 founded the King of Hearts Counseling Center in Brick, N.J., — a counseling center that focuses on counseling from a Biblical perspective.
The other plaintiff counselor in the lawsuit is Ronald Newman, a licensed psychiatrist who obtained advanced degrees in psychology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In 1998, Newman founded the Christian Counseling Consortium of South Jersey, which had engaged in providing ex-gay conversion therapy to minors.
The complaint adds that some of the individuals who decided to stop conversion counseling therapy with Newman “still benefitted from the counseling sessions despite deciding that their same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity were not unwanted.”
“Newman and his patients are suffering and, absent injunctive relief, will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a result of A3371,” the lawsuit states. “By prohibiting minors from receiving SOCE counseling, A3371 has made a portion of Dr. Newman’s practice illegal and unethical.”
Liberty Counsel seeks a preliminary injunction enjoining the Christie administration and other state officials from enforcing the law, a permanent injunctions to the same effect, a declaratory judgment rendering the law unconstitutional, as well as nominal damages and compensation for court costs.
Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, which has spoken out about “ex-gay” therapy and its dangers, criticized the lawsuit as a waste of time for the judicial system.
“The Liberty Counsel has filed a frivolous lawsuit that confuses religious liberty with license to abuse LGBT youth,” Besen said. “The claim is without merit, relies on perpetuating junk science, and is in defense of a fraudulent product. With evidence and facts on our side, the Liberty Counsel is wasting time and money — similar to the clients of ex-gay therapists.”
Still, Liberty Counsel has achieved at least temporary success with filed a similar lawsuit known as Pickup v. Brown against the ex-gay therapy in ban in California. In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction barring the California law from going into effect.
Christie’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the lawsuit.