The momentous legal battle of Brian Tingley v. Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General of Washington, et al., rises from the pages of court dockets, emerging as a case of monumental import. Far from being a mere footnote in legal journals, this case represents a critical battleground, a defining moment that will shape the future of religious liberty and free speech in America. Here, the principles enshrined in the First Amendment and the enduring right to practice one’s faith face a formidable challenge, one that will echo through the halls of justice and beyond.
The case’s genesis lies in Washington’s law, SB 5722, a legislative dictate that prohibits licensed healthcare providers from performing what it terms ‘conversion therapy’ on minors. This law, draped in the garb of protection, defines conversion therapy in broad strokes, encompassing any attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
On the surface, it may appear as a progressive stride towards inclusivity. However, the devil, as always, is in the details. Not only does this undermine the rights of individual minors seeking counseling, it also undermines the rights of parents to seek the best treatment for their children’s sin—the gospel.
When Brian Tingley, a licensed marriage and family counselor, challenged this law, arguing that it infringed upon his First Amendment rights by restricting speech based on its content and viewpoint, the Ninth Circuit Court dismissed these concerns. They viewed counseling not as a form of speech but as professional conduct, thereby skirting the fundamental issue of free speech.
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The Supreme Court’s decision to not review this case leaves in place a precarious precedent. In a disconcerting display of judicial abdication, the Court, save for the dissents of the only two actual conservative Justices, Thomas and Alito, turned a blind eye to a critical First Amendment challenge. The absence of engagement from the other purportedly conservative justices casts a shadow of betrayal over the Court. These so-called guardians of the Constitution and the people’s liberties have, in this instance, once again faltered, leaving the gate unguarded against encroachments upon fundamental freedoms.
Now, let’s examine the ominous shadows this casts on faith-based counseling, particularly biblical and nouthetic counseling. Imagine a landscape dotted with Christian counselors, many embedded within church communities, serving not just as advisors but even on the pastoral staff of their churches. These counselors, often licensed by the state, operate from a deeply biblical worldview, offering guidance that aligns with their Christian worldview.
Under the looming specter of SB 5722, these counselors face a dire predicament. They are legally shackled from offering counsel to minors that deviates from the state-sanctioned narrative of embracing and exploring sexual identities that run counter to biblical teachings. This isn’t merely an infringement of legal rights, it’s a full-frontal assault on the freedom to practice and propagate Christian beliefs.
Consider the ramifications. A young teenager, grappling with questions of identity and faith, seeks guidance from his church or a biblical counselor. In a counseling session, words should flow unimpeded by governmental decree. Yet, under laws like SB 5722, the counselor must censor their faith-informed advice, lest they contravene state diktats. This isn’t just about conversion therapy—it’s the thin end of a wedge that is set to splinter the very God-given right to worship Him openly and freely.
We stand at a crossroads where the constitutional guarantee of free speech and the free exercise of religion are being eroded under the guise of progressive legislation. The Tingley case is emblematic of a broader campaign to sideline and sanitize religious perspectives that don’t align with a prevailing secular narrative.
In the echoes of this judicial silence, one hears the distant rumbling of a storm that threatens to sweep away the liberties that countless have fought and even died to preserve. The right to counsel and be counseled in accordance with one’s faith is not a trivial matter to be casually discarded. It is foundational to a society that professes to value freedom.