SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A coalition of Christian ministers is filing a lawsuit against the state of Illinois over a law forbidding gay conversion therapy.
Filed Thursday, the federal lawsuit maintains the legislation, which prohibits mental health professionals from providing the counseling on the grounds conversion therapy "represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder or illness," directly violates the freedom of both speech and religion of the state's pastors. The suit seeks an exemption from the regulations for state clergy, as opposed to a complete overturning of the legislation.
The Illinois law is much more comprehensive than those of other states, including New Jersey and California, by its extension beyond licensed counselors and therapists to pastors, which opens up the clerics to consumer fraud should they advertise conversion therapy services by representing homosexuality as a mental disorder. The text of the Illinois law clearly defines the state's position on homosexuality, reading, "Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming."
"These pastors teach that homosexual conduct is contrary to God's purpose for humanity and a disorder of God's creation which can be resisted or overcome by those who seek to be faithful to God and His Word. This is what they say to those who seek their counsel — including minors," a portion of the lawsuit reads.
"We want to make sure that young people in particular have access to pastoral and Biblical-based counsel if they want it, and that pastors are able to provide Bible-based counseling without any fear of legal repercussions," explains Steven Stultz, one of five pastors involved in the suit.
Attorney John Mauck, representing the pastors, contends the legislation "undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer."
"Each person should be free to receive Biblical and spiritual counseling from the pastor of their choice to help them orient their sexuality," Mauck stated in a press release.
The push to amend the law has already been condemned by several LGBT activist organizations, which assert that "[t]he law protects patients from harmful, coercive, and fraudulent treatments that attempt to change the unchangeable."
"Faith leaders remain free to say what they want from the pulpit, regardless of how misguided it may be, and the law and the state and federal Constitutions protect that right. That was not changed by this law," says Brian Johnson, CEO of gay activist organization Equality Illinois.
According to Kelly Cassidy, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation, conversion therapy is both "torture" and "abuse," claiming "therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
This position is countered by Pastor Stultz, who claims to have "personally witnessed many people change their sexual orientation through counseling."
" know it is possible," he maintains. "The government is interfering into someone's private decisions. This ban on counseling creates fear in the people most in need of comfort and support."
As of Friday morning, the Illinois state attorney general's office, which will represent the state in the upcoming litigation, had not publicly released a response to the pastor's lawsuit.
This is not the first time similar legislation has drawn the ire of religious-based therapy efforts. In January, a New Jersey court shut down a group called Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH), which refered men and women struggling with same-sex attraction to counselors who could assist them. The case involved four young men who falsely claimed the organization had promised they would be cured of same-sex attraction, despite previous statements revealing the customers had been satisfied with their experience with JONAH.