Iowa City Repeals Counseling Ban

Aug 28, 2023

WATERLOO, IA – After receiving a demand letter from Liberty Counsel, the city council in Waterloo, Iowa repealed its local ordinance last week that prevented counselors from providing minor clients with help to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or gender confusion. 

In May 2023, Waterloo’s City Council voted 6-1 to approve Ordinance 5701 banning verbal counseling meant to “change behaviors or gender expressions” in gender-confused children. However, the city council recently voted 4-3 to repeal that ordinance before facing potentially costly litigation as similar bans in other cities have been ruled unconstitutional.

Liberty Counsel’s June 30 demand letter showed that local governments in Iowa do not have the authority to regulate licensed counseling because the Iowa Legislature has given that power solely to Iowa’s Board of Behavior Science. In addition, the letter explained that Waterloo’s ban on counseling therapy (erroneously called “conversion therapy”) was “offensive to the First Amendment” because it banned counseling “based on the viewpoint of that counseling.” The ordinance also left professional counselors guessing as to how far the city would go in punishing violators since the municipal code prescribed variable fines and jail time for ordinance violations.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently struck down two similar city ordinances in Florida ruling that prohibiting licensed counselors from providing voluntary counseling therapy to minors seeking help with unwanted gender confusion is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Court found that the bans were both content and viewpoint based and violated the First Amendment right to free speech. 

Under the laws that were struck down, a counselor could encourage a client to take life-altering hormone drugs or even undergo invasive surgery to remove healthy body parts but could not help a client who sought to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, or confusion. 

Liberty Counsel represented professional counselors in both cases. In Otto v. City of Boca Raton, the Court ordered Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton to financially compensate two counselors totaling $175,000 in damages. Boca Raton and Palm Beach County still face liability for attorney’s fees and costs. In Vazzo v. City of Tampa, the City of Tampa paid a $950,000 settlement in the case. 

In the Vazzo case, Judge William F. Jung’s ruling refuted the made-up term “conversion therapy” that activists and the media frequently use. In his order he stated, “Broadly stated, the Ordinance bars therapy within the City by medical doctors and mental health professionals that seeks to assist a minor patient in a goal to change gender expression or to change sexual orientation/attraction. These two subjects are separate and distinct, but related. The cases have generically referred to these two subjects as ‘SOCE’ or sexual orientation change efforts. The Ordinance uses the term ‘conversion therapy.’ Neither term is entirely accurate.” 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The City of Waterloo made a wise decision to repeal their unconstitutional ordinance. The First Amendment affords counselors and clients the freedom to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship. With these laws out of the way, minors who are struggling with gender confusion are able get help they need from licensed counselors.” 

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