Court Upholds Law Banning Gay to Straight Therapy for Minors

Last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California law barring psychological treatment aimed at turning gay youth straight. Liberty Counsel, a religious-based legal and public policy group, had filed an injunction against the law before it took effect earlier this year.

In a unanimous opinion, the panel said that attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation though intense therapy appeared dangerous and that California properly illustrated that gay to straight therapy (aversion therapy) falls outside the realm of the scientific mainstream.

Gay aversion therapy attempts to utilize psychological treatment to rid individuals of homosexuality and replace it with heterosexual desires. Gay aversion therapy uses pseudoscientific tactics to attempt to turn gay individuals straight. These tactics include, in some cases, the application of electric shock therapy to the hands or genitals, nausea inducing drugs simultaneously administered while the patient views homoerotic material, masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy, and spiritual interventions.

The American Psychological Association (the “APA”), the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, condemns these alternative practices and reaffirms the fact that homosexuality does not classify as a mental disorder.

The APA reports that some individuals have been harmed during these sexual orientation change efforts by an increase in distress and depression. The APA also reports that gay aversion therapy represents a significant cause of distress and negative self-image to those individuals who have participated in therapy but did not shed their homosexuality.

The APA “encourages mental health professionals to provide assistance to those who seek sexual orientation change by utilizing affirmative multiculturally competent and client centered approaches that recognize the negative impact of social stigma on sexual minorities and balance ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity.”

In line with the APA’s findings, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation through intense therapy seemed dangerous and that California, through reports, experts and anecdotes involving suicides, substance abuse and other behavior by young therapy recipients, properly showed that aversion efforts have been rejected for good reason.

Judge Susan Graber, one of the judges sitting on last week’s panel, said, “one could argue that children under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable with respect to sexual identity and that their parents’ judgment may be clouded by this emotionally charged issue as well.”

When California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed the law, he said that those who practice aversion therapy practice “quackery” and that aversion therapy has “no basis in science or medicine.”

On August 19, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, signed a similar law into effect. The New Jersey law bars any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor from using therapies to change the sexual orientation of children under the age of 18.

The New Jersey law, like the California law, comes with its challengers. Liberty Counsel, representing parties that filed a challenge against the New Jersey law, claims that the law does not respect the rights of clients to make decisions about treatment, interferes with a therapist’s First Amendment rights to free speech, and restricts a family’s right to informed consent about the therapeutic options available to help minors “reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.”

While the New Jersey law’s fate remains to be seen, the upholding of California’s law banning gay aversion therapy serves as a significant step forward in protecting the rights of homosexual minors, a group often stigmatized in an age of cyber bullying and changes in the legal landscape.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Two Sister States are Worlds Apart on Juvenile Justice Issues, Social Justice Solutions

California and Florida are practically sister states. Both are major tourist destinations and home to numerous celebrities. Aside from that, they have thriving multi-billion dollar agricultural interests with oranges, avocados, etc. jockeying for coveted market share. These states are also remarkably long with different community influences, biospheres, and terrain to contend with. In fact, both are so long that one could almost reach Chicago from Pensacola in the same time and length of travel as it would take to drive to Key West. In regards to cultural influences, both have unusually large Asian, Hispanic, and Native American influences. Indeed, numerous similarities abound between the two. However, when it comes to Juvenile Justice issues, these two sister states are worlds apart.

Starting in the 1990s, both states seemed to be traveling along the same path. The “Super Predator” myth first posited by Professor John DiIulio, Jr., a well-noted author and criminologist, caught the public in a frenzy that led to more and more arrests of teen and pre-teen boys for seemingly innocuous offenses. Federally funded School Resource Officers filled the schools and only helped to bolster the number of juveniles being processed through the courts – many tried as adults. Then, a massive series of events occurred in 2009 that fundamentally changed the two states and put them on drastically different paths.

Report Singles Out 9 States, Including Texas, For Turnaround in Adopting Policies to Reduce Youth Incarceration, Dallas Morning News

Texas has reduced the number of youth the state incarcerates by 35 percent in the past 10 years, turning around its policies and realigning the juvenile justice system, according to a report by the National Juvenile Justice Network and Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The report, titled “The Comeback States,” was published this week and focuses on nine states that incarcerated youth at a high rate between 1985-2000 and then experienced a sharp decline between 2001-2010.

Nationally, in 2000, more than 108,000 youth were being held in juvenile facilities. At the end of 2010, that number dropped to 66,000.

State Judge Strikes Down N.H. Tax Credit for Private Tuition Aid, Education Week

A New Hampshire judge has struck down the state’s year-old program of tax credits for businesses that contribute money to organizations offering tuition scholarships at private schools.

Presiding Justice John M. Lewis of Stratford County Superior Court held that the program violates the state constitution because it diverts state tax payments to religious schools.

“New Hampshire students, and their parents, certainly have the right to choose a religious education,” the judge said in his June 17 ruling in Duncan v. New Hampshire. “However, the government is under no obligation to fund ‘religious’ education. Indeed, the government is expressly forbidden from doing so by the very language of the New Hampshire Constitution.”

Los Angeles Moves to ‘Mainstream’ Hundreds of Students, Education Week

First Illinois, now Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is the latest mainstreaming effort to make the news. The 640,000-student district plans to move hundreds of students from separate schools for students with disabilities to neighborhood schools, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

The district says it is making the move in order to comply with federal and state regulations, in addition to a 1996 consent decree that requires the district to reduce the number of students in stand-alone centers. An independent monitor overseeing Los Angeles’ efforts to comply with the decree maintains a website of the latest district moves.


Yoga: Relaxing Exercise or Hindu Religious Indoctrination?

Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas, California has started teaching yoga classes to its elementary school students. The classes are to be held twice weekly for thirty minutes a session.

Some parents are raising religious objections to these classes, fearing that the program will promote Hindu religious beliefs. They are claiming it violates their First Amendment rights. One parent said that the school is using yoga as “a tool for many things beyond just stretching.” While many parents have said that their children enjoy the classes, about 200 people have signed a petition saying they are against the program.

The program is supported with funds from the nonprofit Jois Foundation, founded in memory of the father of Ashtanga yoga. Some foundation leaders have equated the physical act of yoga to part of a broader spiritual question, which Dean Broyles, attorney for the Plaintiffs, views as problematic. He explained that, “There is a transparent promotion of Hindu religious beliefs and practices in the public schools” through the program. He asked, “How is a sun salutation or a lotus position not a worshipful pose?” Broyles has explained that the opponents to the Ashtanga yoga classes are not against yoga; they are against the fact that the Jois Foundation has specifically described Ashtanga Yoga as spiritual.

There is a bit of a disagreement as to whether or not the district officials have removed the mystical, spiritual, or religious nature of the yoga. Some say it was removed to make it appropriate for an elementary school class and some say it was not removed because it was not present to begin with. Either way, it is apparently the district, and not the Jois Foundation, that is selecting the teachers and writing the curriculum.

Apparently, the classes are not mandatory for students. The school superintendent, Tim Baird, clarified by saying, “If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.” One parent, James Lawrence, has removed his children from the program. He would prefer that his children receive another form of physical exercise instead, but the school has no second option. Instead, his children, along with all of the other children choosing not to participate, do homework or read during the sessions. Further, the plaintiffs allege that children who have opted out of the program have been harassed and bullied.

Enyedi, the yoga instructor, seemed to defend yoga from an exercise/athletic perspective. She said, “The Ashtanga yoga sequence helps me as an athlete. I’m not a Hindu.” One teacher at the school explained that yoga is helping the students; it has helped create a level of focus in the students after they have completed the stretching exercises. The district has said: “We’re not teaching religion. We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program.”