On Thursday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Tampa ordinance that prohibited licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity, is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
In Vazzo v. City of Tampa, Liberty Counsel represents marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and his minor clients, as well as the Christian ministry, New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay.
Thursday’s ruling is based on Liberty Counsel’s earlier victory in Otto v. City of Boca Raton in which the Eleventh Circuit previously ruled that similar bans preventing counselors from helping their clients in Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton were also unconstitutional viewpoint restrictions on speech under the First Amendment.
Thursday, the three-judge panel wrote, “We held this case in abeyance pending the issuance of the mandate in Otto v. City of Boca Raton. In Otto, we held that city and county ordinances banning sexual orientation change efforts (“SOCE”) were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The City of Tampa’s SOCE ordinance here is substantively the same as the ordinances at issue in Otto. Accordingly, we are bound by our prior-panel precedent rule to affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Plaintiffs-Appellees.”
In October 2019, federal Judge William F. Jung issued an order granting summary judgment to Liberty Counsel in its suit to invalidate the Tampa ordinance that prohibited licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity. The District Court in Vazzo ruled that the ordinance seeking to regulate counselors was a statewide concern and beyond the authority of local governments. In reaching this decision, the lower court did not decide the First Amendment claim. Today’s ruling permanently strikes down the ordinance under the First Amendment.
In Judge Jung’s ruling, he refuted the made-up term “conversion therapy” that activists and the media frequently use. In his order he stated, “Broadly stated, the Ordinance bars therapy within the City by medical doctors and mental health professionals that seeks to assist a minor patient in a goal to change gender expression or to change sexual orientation/attraction. These two subjects are separate and distinct, but related. The cases have generically referred to these two subjects as ‘SOCE’ or sexual orientation change efforts. The Ordinance uses the term ‘conversion therapy.’ Neither term is entirely accurate.”
In November 2019, the City of Tampa appealed the judge’s ruling that granted summary judgment to Liberty Counsel, thereby invalidating the Tampa ordinance that prohibited licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great victory for counselors and their clients. Counselors and clients have the freedom to choose the counsel of their choice and be free of political censorship from government-mandated speech.”