Ban on ‘conversion therapy’ threatens Indiana church ministry
For 45 years, Faith Church in West Lafayette, Ind., has operated a free Bible counseling ministry for members of the community. But that awareness is now under threat from a City Council proposal that would penalize anyone who speaks with minors to help them overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
Draft Order 31-21 prohibits unauthorized persons from performing “conversion therapy” with children under 18, with fines of up to $1,000 per day for violators. It defines conversion therapy as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce attractions or sexual or romantic feelings towards people of the same sex”.
Regent School of Law professor Brad Jacob had two words for it: “Manifestly unconstitutional.” Jacob, a constitutional law expert, said the proposal contradicts decades of free speech law. “Essentially, they’re saying the only acceptable worldview is that if you feel those impulses, you have to act on them,” Jacob said. “It’s crazy.”
Faith Church Senior Pastor Steve Viars said the proposed ordinance strikes at the heart of a ministry that currently has 32 counselors offering 60 to 80 hours of Bible counseling to community members each week. He argued that the order, by its scope, could even prohibit parents from counseling their own children on sexual matters.
“We are not fighters,” Viars said. “We are not people who are just looking to get into the thick of it with someone. We want to love our community, and Bible counseling is one of the ways we’ve chosen to do that.
Faith ministry is an outgrowth of a form of counseling popularized by the late Presbyterian minister Jay Adams in his 1970 book. Competent to advise. Adams, who died in 2020, advocated for a strictly biblical approach to counseling that remains popular today.
After receiving a post-Thanksgiving media report that the city council was considering the ordinance, Viars sent a Dec. 2 letter to the mayor and council asking that the proposal be shelved or that at least a religious exemption be allowed. . The pastor has made it clear that he is not in favor of conversion therapy, a secular technique which, in its most extreme and now discredited forms, can involve shock treatments and aversion therapy with the aim of change unwanted sexual attractions. Yet the City Council ignored Viars’ overture.
This galvanized the opposition, leading Faith Church and other area churches, campus groups and concerned citizens to found Lafayette Citizens for Freedom, an organization that champions religious freedom. It also led to an outpouring of what Viars said were hundreds of letters and now more than 4,700 emails to city council members. At a packed council meeting in early December, Mayor John Dennis spoke out against the proposed ordinance. “We have to remember that parents have rights and individuals have rights,” Dennis said. “If parents choose to seek religious advice, are we going to be the ones to say no, you can’t do that?”
The city council tabled motions to approve the ordinance at meetings in January and December and is expected to consider an amended version of the proposal on February 7.
West Lafayette’s proposed order is different from other speaking bans that target licensed counselors that LGBT advocates have pushed in states and localities across the country. These bans have received a mixed reception from the courts. In Washington, licensed counselor Brian Tingley is appealing in federal court after losing a challenge to a state law that prohibits counseling minors for unwanted same-sex attractions. In Atlanta, a federal appeals court is considering rehearing a November 2020 panel ruling that overturned similar speaking bans in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton, Florida.