Tampa Counseling Ban Violates Free Speech

Sep 24, 2019

TAMPA, FL – Liberty Counsel is in federal court today seeking to permanently block the city of Tampa’s ordinance which violates the First Amendment by prohibiting licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity. The ordinance imposes significant monetary fines on counselors who provide this voluntary counseling.

Liberty Counsel represents marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and his minor clients, as well as the Christian ministry, New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay. The sacred trust between counselors and clients establishes a unique relationship that permits the clients to inform their counselors of their goals and receive counseling consistent with those goals. That therapeutic alliance has long been held sacred and inviolable.

Tampa Ordinance 2017-47 violates the bonds of the therapeutic alliance and the First Amendment by imposing a viewpoint and content-based prohibition on the speech on licensed professionals in Tampa who offer counsel. 

A federal magistrate judge issued a 38-page report in January recommending that Liberty Counsel’s preliminary injunction be granted and that Ordinance 2017-47 be enjoined for its multiple violations of the First Amendment. The plaintiffs demonstrated that the ordinance is unconstitutional because (1) it is a content restriction that is not narrowly tailored; (2) it is viewpoint discrimination; (3) it is overbroad; (4) it is a prior restraint; and (5) it is vague.

Liberty Counsel argued that Tampa never considered less restrictive alternative means. Liberty Counsel’s client counselor only engage in talk therapy, only with clients who voluntarily seek it, and only with informed consent. The city’s representative testified under oath that city officials had no idea how to distinguish between different forms of counseling. The city admitted that the voluntary talk therapy offered by Liberty Counsel’s clients is banned under Tampa’s ordinance.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Our counseling client engages in ‘talk therapy,’ which is the common practice of counselors and the city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from helping their clients achieve their goals. The government has no business eavesdropping inside the counseling session between a counselor and client. It is a serious violation of the First Amendment,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is a 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. Liberty Counsel provides broadcast quality TV interviews via Hi-Def Skype and LTN at no cost.