New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill Monday morning banning all licensed therapists from practicing a controversial method known as “gay conversion therapy” on anybody under the age of 18, make New Jersey the second state in the nation to do so.
Opposition to the governor’s decision is largely coming from the religious right and other social conservatives who are erroneously invoking the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Indeed, limiting parental choice in their children’s may seem to be an infraction of the First Amendment, but in this case it is clear that since it is illegal to subject a child to any form of abuse, this ill-founded and scientifically damaging form of counseling should be banned immediately.
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and even the World Health Organization have all publicly opposed conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy, because it causes “serious and long term harm.” In other words, patients can suffer from substance abuse, declining self-esteem, severe depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
In this CRS report For Congress summarizing the major exceptions to the First Amendment, it states under the “Speech Harmful to Children” section that “it is recognized that there is a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors,” and that it must be accomplished by “narrowly drawn regulations without unnecessarily interfering with First Amendment freedoms.”
To come to his decision, Gov. Christie has used both scientific evidence and the limit of his legal powers. He is at once honoring the principle of free speech (reasonably regulating it to apply only to those under legal age), and acting upon a very serious public health concern for that same age-group.
Those against Christie's decision must consider other, similar laws that protect children from abuse and damage — ones that limit not only the decisions of parents but also of children themselves.
Take underage drinking. Regardless of parental consent, it is illegal in most circumstances for anybody under the age of 21 to purchase or consume any alcohol due to the harmful side effects youthful drinking can lead to. The government — as it can with the issue of reparative therapy for gay adolescents — takes choice out of the hands of children who are not yet mentally, emotionally, or physical developed enough to fully understand the consequences of their decisions and out of the hands of parents as a means of promoting general public welfare based on scientific facts.
Governor Christie hasn’t interfered with anybody’s right to free speech or imposed on a professional’s ability to delivery therapy, he has only halted the disastrous effects of a damaging pseudo-science aimed at “altering” the sexual identities of minors who are often forced into it anyway.