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City's 'Conversion Therapy Ban' Under Fire, WI Liberty Group Says It Would Outlaw Free Speech


A Wisconsin non-profit law firm is urging the City of La Crosse to abandon its so-called "conversion therapy" ban, arguing it violates the freedom of speech. 

The city council is scheduled to consider a proposed amendment to its recently adopted Ordinance No. 5220 Tuesday night. The council passed the ordinance on June 9 to ban therapy for people seeking to overcome same-sex attraction or gender confusion. 

The measure bars "any practices or treatments offered or rendered to consumers, including psychological counseling, that seeks {sic} to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender." 

At the same time, it explicitly permits "counseling that provides assistance to a person undergoing gender transition or counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person or facilitates a person's coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual-orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, as long as such counseling does not seek to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity."

While purportedly a so-called "conversion therapy" ban, in effect the ordinance functions as a sweeping and vague prohibition on speech that isn't government-approved. Parents and ministers, for instance, could be punished simply for sharing their religious views on matters of gender, according to the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). 

As CBN News has reported over the last several years, "conversion therapy" is a phrase used by LGBTQ advocates who say any therapy is harmful if it isn't pro-LGBTQ, and could allegedly drive someone to hurt themselves or commit suicide.

In its first 10-page letter dated Aug. 22, addressed to the city council, WILL highlighted five major problems with the city's ordinance, contending: It violates freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and parental rights; it is impermissibly vague, and it is preempted by state law. 

WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg, and deputy counsels, Anthony LoCoco and Luke Berg wrote, "the City of La Crosse has determined that the best use of limited municipal resources is to wade into some of the most profound ontological, moral, and religious debates of our age—the meaning and proper ends of sex, gender, and sexual attraction—declare one side the 'winner,' and investigate and punish those who dare to voice opposing views."

In the letter, WILL also points out the ordinance would be at odds with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) which acknowledges that "{s}ocial transitions in early childhood" are "a controversial issue" and that "health professionals" have "divergent views" on this issue. WPATH even recommends that health professionals defer to parents "as they work through the options and implications," even if they ultimately "do not allow their young child to make a gender-role transition."

According to WILL, under the ordinance, parents and ministers could be punished simply for sharing their religious views on matters of gender.  

WILL also points out the City's Assistant Chief of Police confirmed that if there were complaints about violations of the ordinance the City's Police Department would investigate the violation and take necessary enforcement action. The penalty for violation of the ordinance is a fine of up to $1,000 per day and the costs of prosecution.

"La Crosse's ordinance threatens parents, ministers, and counselors, among others, with punishment if they share sincerely-held views on issues of sex and gender with children in their care. It is a black-letter law that the government has no right to simply penalize speech with which it disagrees. La Crosse needs to rethink its actions," said WILL Deputy Counsel Anthony LoCoco. 

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In a second letter to the city council dated Aug. 29, WILL told council members the proposed amendment still does not address the ordinance's constitutional problems.  

"First, it applies the prohibition on disfavored speech to 'medical or mental health professionals' (as defined) rather than all persons," WILL wrote. 

"Ultimately, the effect of the Ordinance is the same whether in its present form or as amended: a government entity is threatening its citizens with punishment if they voice a viewpoint the government disfavors. ...this Ordinance is not salvageable and the City should abandon its censorship project," the letter concluded. 

WXOW-TV reports WILL is connected to a local group opposed to the therapy ban, Save Your Rights Coalition of La Crosse.

"These warning letters from WILL are alarm bells ringing for those city council members and the citizens of La Crosse," co-founder Shannon McKinney said in a statement. "Citizens of La Crosse are waking up to what this city council is trying to do to them, namely, trying to take away your Constitutional rights."

According to the La Cross Tribune, La Crosse became the 14th city in the state to ban "conversion therapy" in June, though other communities have not faced the same type of legal challenges.

CBN News has reached out to La Crosse Council Member Mac Kiel, the ordinance's sponsor for comment. We'll post it here if we hear back.  

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