On September 20, 2019 a Federal District Court in Maryland rejected a challenge to Maryland’s recent law that prohibits conversion therapy of minor children. A Maryland psychotherapist, Christopher Doyle, claimed that the law violated his religious freedom. The plaintiff was supported by the Liberty Counsel based in Orlando Florida. Conversion therapy generally seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation from being gay or bisexual to heterosexual. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize the practice and considers it unethical.

The Maryland law bans the practice with anyone under 18. Mr. Doyle’s complaint claimed that the new law targets his “sincerely held religious beliefs regarding human nature, gender, ethics, morality, and counseling to eliminate, reduce, or resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity” by prohibiting him from “offering . . . counseling that is consistent with [those] religious beliefs.”

In her ruling Judge Deborah Chasanow, stated: The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof.” The First Amendment does not, however, provide absolute protection to engage in religiously motivated conduct…[A] neutral, generally applicable law does not offend the Free Exercise Clause, even if the law has an incidental effect on religious practice.”
…the statute is, at a minimum, facially neutral…As applied, Plaintiff has failed to provide facts indicating that the “object of (the law) was to burden practices because of their religious motivation…. Plaintiff’s bare conclusion that (the law) displays hostility towards his religious convictions is not enough, acting alone, to state a claim that (the law) violates his free exercise rights.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office said, conversion therapy “relies on the false premise that an LGBTQ individual is broken and must be fixed.” According to the Hill, Maryland joins ten other states (Connecticut, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington) and the District of Columbia in banning conversion therapy of minor when the state adopted the law last October.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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