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Pastors challenge anti-gay conversion law in court
by Matt Simonette
2016-08-11

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An ad hoc group of religious personnel, calling itself Pastors Protecting Youth, on Aug. 11, filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Illinois, arguing that the Youth Mental Health Protection Act infringes on the rights of individuals offering pastoral counseling.

The Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which was passed in Aug. 2015, bans so-called conversion therapy that purports to "cure" individuals of their homosexuality from being practiced upon minors.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Pastors Steven K. Stultz, Frank Teesdale, Brenda Bravatty and Arthurine Wilkinson. Lead attorney on the case is John Mauck of the Chicago law-firm Mauck & Baker, which specializes in church-related litigation.

Conversion therapy has long been discredited by numerous medical and psychiatric professional associations. The Youth Mental Health Protection Act largely frames the issue as one of consumer protection against fraud, and makes mental health practitioners engaging in conversion therapy upon minors answerable to authorities.

The suit, which names Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is responsible for enforcement of the law, as defendant, says that the law makes no exception for pastoral counseling and related activities, thus placing the state between a pastor and a congregant needing help. In an Aug. 11 press conference at the federal courthouse, Mauck called that "dangerous."

"These pastors want a court declaration saying the law does not apply to them," Mauck said. "The law does not have any specific exemptions for pastoral counseling, so that's why we're seeking the court order protecting them, so they will not be charged with consumer fraud for their teachings that homosexual conduct is sinful. We also are representing young people who don't have a place in our courts but are struggling with their sexual identity and sexual conduct. In particular, they need advice when they are young and their hormones are raging, and they are trying to form an identity. Pastors can help them and want to help them."

Mauck's firm has been looking to challenge the law since it was originally signed. On Aug. 26, 2015, six days after the bill was passed, a Mauck & Baker attorney told the anti-gay American Family Association's OneNewsNow outlet that it was would be willing to take on pro bono work against the legislation.

Mauck said at the conference that there he did not know of any cases where the state had intervened after a pastoral counselor had spoken against homosexuality.

"To date we haven't heard of any pastor being charged with consumer fraud," he noted. "Consumer fraud is what's [addressed] in the law. We know of quite a few counselors who've said that they've stopped counseling about reparative therapy or homosexual conduct, but that's a different section of the law—we're only challenging the section of the law that applies to unlicensed counselors, which are primarily pastors and other religious leaders. So far there hasn't been a case brought that we know of."

The Youth Mental Health Protection Act was sponsored in the House by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and in the Senate by state Sen. Daniel Biss.


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