Tampa Change Counseling Ban Faces Legal Challenge

Dec 4, 2017

TAMPA, FL – Liberty Counsel filed suit in federal court against the City of Tampa for its adoption of Ordinance 2017-47, which prohibits licensed counselors from providing and clients from receiving counseling to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity. The ordinance imposes significant monetary fines on counselors who provide such counseling.

Liberty Counsel represents Robert Vazzo, LMFT, David Pickup, LMFT, and their minor clients and their parents. These counselors provide life-saving counsel to minors and their parents or legal guardians who desperately desire to conform their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, and identity to their religious beliefs or conscience. The sacred trust between counselors and clients establishes a unique relationship that permits the clients to inform the counselors of their goals and receive counseling consistent with such goals. That therapeutic alliance has long been held sacred and inviolable. The City of Tampa, however, has decided to storm the office doors of mental health professionals, thrust itself into the therapeutic alliance, violate the critical privacy inherent in such a relationship, and disregard the fundamental rights of the counselor and the client. 

Ordinance 2017-47 violates the First Amendment by imposing a viewpoint and content-based prohibition on the speech on licensed professionals in Tampa who offer change counseling. The ordinance also blatantly violates the rights of clients under the Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which permits counselors to offer, and clients to receive, treatment methods that they and their mental or health care practitioner believe is in their best interest. The State of Florida is the only government body with authority to regulate mental health practitioners in the state, and local government bodies are not empowered to contradict state regulations.

The City of Tampa has no authority to enact such a regulation, which is directly contradictory to Florida law. The legislature squarely rejected proposals to enact similar counseling prohibitions state-wide.

“The Tampa law is a gross intrusion into the fundamental rights of counselors and minors, and represents government intrusion into the sacrosanct relationship between a counselor and the client,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The City of Tampa has no authority to prohibit a form of counseling simply because it does not like the religious beliefs of a particular client. Tampa’s prohibition is blatantly unconstitutional and causes harm to countless minors, and Liberty Counsel will not stand by as authoritarian members of council blatantly ignore the First Amendment,” said Staver.

Staver also noted that there are other municipalities in Florida that have enacted or are considering similar change counsel bans. These too are unconstitutional.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.