State Watch

Christie’s Shaky Signing

New Jersey's new ban is an attack on liberty, religious and beyond.

By 8.23.13

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's signing into law a ban on professional counseling to change sexual orientation for minors has already ignited religious liberty and other concerns about state power. A similar California law is currently judicially blocked.

Presumably Christie, who opposes same-sex marriage, signed this bill to politically protect his left flank as he campaigns for re-election and possibly knowing it won't survive the courts anyway.

But the movement to legally ban sexual orientation therapy illustrates the increasing authoritarian impulse to squelch dissent from the Sexual Revolution's latest pressing demands.

It also confirms the growing gnostic assumptions about human reality, enshrining feelings and impulses as sacred, while instrumentalizing the human body. Parents and minors who want help resisting what they believe are inappropriate temptations are to be villainized. But parents who facilitate pumping their children's bodies full of hormones in preparation for sexually mutilating sex change procedures are to be affirmed. Sexual preference is protected but not physical sexual reality.

The assumptions of the New Jersey legislation also seem somewhat dated. The latest gender/sexual identity politics are dismissive of claims of predetermined sexual orientation and celebrate that sexual identity and preference are endlessly fluid and self-chosen. Today a lesbian, tomorrow a transgender, next a heterosexual male, soon to be a pansexual defying all categories. In the new sexual identity utopia, only fixed boundaries are forbidden.

Whatever the New Jersey law's other problems, it is foremost an attack on private conscience and religious freedom, imposing a perceived secular ideological orthodoxy upon traditionalists who dare to dissent.

Southern Baptist Convention spokesman Russell Moore warned the bill is "broadly and haphazardly written in a way that endangers, among other things, the teenager who seeks counsel for how to live a chaste life with same-sex attractions. His counselor, upon threat of losing a license, can only parrot the state-approved line rather than dealing with him or her as an individual." Moore said, "This really isn't about reparative therapy, but about religious liberty and personal freedom."

The bill doesn't apply to clergy or non-licensed church counselors. It forbids any state licensed mental health professional from "sexual orientation change efforts with a person under 18 years of age," defining "orientation" as "sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.” So evidently helping a heterosexual convert to another preference, a not unlikely scenario in the current culture, would be legally permitted.

Liberty Counsel, headed by Liberty University Law School Dean Mat Staver, is the group successfully litigating against the California law and planning to challenge New Jersey. He warned that New Jersey "is putting [itself] in every counseling room, dictating what kind of counseling clients can receive. This bill provides a slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs."

The law's supporters, including Christie, cite concerns that non-traditional youth are psychologically harmed by therapy to steer their preference toward normative heterosexuality. It does not acknowledge that non-heterosexual inclinations could themselves be the cause of unhappiness, because the politically correct assumption is that only societal bigotry could be the ultimate cause.

It's unclear whether the law would specifically prohibit a professional counselor from encouraging chastity for minors. If so, then the law has made illegal any professional counsel rooted in any one of the great traditional religions. Mental health professionals will have to reject their faith or risk their license.

It's also interesting that the law's supporters spoke of its defense for LGBTQ youth, not just homosexuals. How can counselors legally handle bisexuals or transgenders? Would any counsel towards monogamy be deemed dangerous towards bisexuals attracted to both sexes? How can "questioning" youth be counseled? Must every conceivable sexual inclination, except for normative heterosexuality within marriage, be legally enshrined with protected status?

More widely, there is also the law's intrusion of government into the arena of inner desires. Traditionally the only sexual association government has legally recognized is male-female marriage, largely because of that union's role in procreation and the rearing of children. But what of this new world in which the state legally affirms every range of sexual practice, desire and identity while anathematizing dissenters?

As Southern Baptist writer Andrew Walker discerned:

When the state can speak authoritatively on whether a person’s desires are to be kept, shunned, or celebrated, the state is speaking with an authority it does not possess. It is neither the job nor the role of the state to speak to the entirety of the human self—an action in this particular circumstance that enfeebles the capacity for self-determination.

The New Jersey law is an assault on not just religious freedom but liberty itself. Under the guise of protecting the vulnerable, as nearly all power grabs are, it seeks to claim for government a new transcendent authority for which there is no ultimate ceiling.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.