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Appeals court affirms tossing out Tampa's conversion therapy ban

The city's ordinance was approved in 2017 and challenged by religious groups and therapists, claiming it violated their free-speech rights.

TAMPA, Fla. — A federal appeals court on Thursday affirmed a 2019 ruling that struck down Tampa's ordinance banning conversion therapy, a controversial practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The decision by a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that the court is bound by precedent.

In 2020, the court struck down laws in Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Florida, concluding that "speech-based therapy" is not medical conduct but "merely the expression of a viewpoint," the American Psychological Association noted. The ordinances were ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Tampa's ordinance largely was the same as the other cities, the court said.

Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum, who concurred with the court's ruling, wrote that while she agreed with the decision to affirm, the other Florida cases were wrongly decided.

Tampa's ordinance was approved in 2017 and challenged by religious groups and therapists, including the Christian-based Liberty Counsel, who practices conversion therapy. They claimed it violated their free-speech rights.

City leaders originally passed the ordinance to stop mental health professionals from performing the practice on minors.

Sometimes called "reparative" or "ex-gay therapy," the practice attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation. Every major medical association, from the American Medical Association to the American Psychological Association, says conversion therapy has no scientific credibility.

U.S. District Judge William Jung, however in his initial ruling striking down Tampa's ban, cited a 2009 American Psychological Association Task Force report that found "no study to date has demonstrated adequate scientific rigor to provide a clear picture of the prevalence or frequency of either beneficial or harmful SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] outcomes."

But as Clinton W. Anderson, the interim executive director of the Public Interest Directorate of the American Psychological Association, wrote in a letter to the editor to the Tampa Bay Times, he contends Jung misinterpreted the 2009 report.

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, reacting to the judges' affirmation in a statement 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."

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