Appeals Court Telegraphs Win in Another Counseling Case

Dec 8, 2020

TAMPA, FL – The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals canceled oral argument scheduled for next Tuesday in the City of Tampa’s appeal regarding the counseling ban ordinance that a federal judge previously struck down. 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 appeals court will delay this hearing until a final mandate is issued in the case of Otto, et al v. City of Boca Raton, FL et al. Liberty Counsel also represents Dr. Robert Otto, LMFT and Dr. Julie Hamilton, LMFT and their minor clients who challenged the constitutionality of ordinances enacted by the City of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County which prohibit minors from voluntary counseling from licensed professionals. 

Today, the three-judge panel in the Vazzo case, stated, in part: 

“[T]his case is ultimately governed by our recent decision in Otto v. City of Boca Raton, No. 19- 10604, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 6813994 (11th Cir. 2020). And Otto requires us to affirm the district court’s decision in this case. Our prior-precedent rule requires us to follow the precedent of earlier panels unless and until the prior precedent is overruled or undermined to the point of abrogation by the Supreme Court or this Court sitting en banc.” 

A previous three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Otto struck down laws that ban counselors in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Country from providing minor clients with help to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or gender confusion. The court found that the laws were both content and viewpoint based and violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The case is on appeal by the City of Boca Raton.

In the Vazzo case out of Tampa, Federal Judge William F. Jung previously issued an order granting summary judgment to Liberty Counsel in its suit to permanently strike down the ordinance, which also imposed significant monetary fines on counselors who provide this voluntary counseling. In Judge Jung’s ruling, he refutes the made-up term “conversion therapy” that activists and the media frequently use. In his order he states, “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.” The court’s recitation of many points from the testimony abolishes the false arguments used to push these dangerous laws.

The court also ruled that local governments do not have authority to regulate counseling because it is the prerogative of the state, and the ban could interfere with a patient’s right to privacy and a parent’s right to choose health care for their children under Florida law. 

Jung wrote, “Nothing is more intimate, more private, and more sensitive, than a growing young man or woman talking to a mental health therapist about sex, gender, preferences, and conflicting feelings. The Ordinance inserts the City’s code enforcers into the middle of this sensitive, intense and private moment. But this moment is already governed by Florida’s very broad rights of privacy, something the Ordinance ignores…The Florida Constitution’s privacy amendment suggests that government should stay out of the therapy room. The Tampa Ordinance does not address this constitutional issue, and in doing so the City attempts to occupy a very private space, contrary to a strong statewide policy.” 

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Today’s order from the Court of Appeals reaffirms that this is the beginning of the end of these unconstitutional counseling bans. The final demise of Tampa’s unconstitutional ban is near. Every jurisdiction where these counseling bans have been enacted must quickly repeal them to avoid being sued and having to pay damages.” 

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