This week at the Guardian I’m writing about the gay conversion therapy ban passed in New Jersey, and how religious freedom is too often used as an argument for abusing kids — at the expense of children’s own equal protection under the law.
As of this week, gay conversation therapy is outlawed in the state of New Jersey. Kids who are either gay or suspected of being gay cannot be forced by their parents to endure homophobic corrective therapy, which assemblyman and bill sponsor Tim Eustice correctly calls “an insidious form of child abuse”.
Not only does conversion therapy fail to actually “convert” gay kids into straight ones, but, according to the American Psychological Association (which disavows the practice), it often leaves lasting scars, leading to mental health issues and substance abuse. California is the only other state in the nation that has attempted to ban conversion therapy, but that ban is caught up in ongoing legal battles.
Conversion therapists argue that their practice helps young people who are struggling with their sexuality, and that choosing the therapy is a First Amendment issue. Outlawing conversion therapy, they say, is one step on the “slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs”.
Religious freedom is a constitutional right. But it’s not the only one. Too often, the religious “freedom” of a parent comes at the expense of their children’s basic human rights and rights to equal protection under the law. Kids are not simply extensions of their parents. They are individual people, and while they should be guided and directed and for the most part under the legal authority of their parents, their own rights to personal safety, health care and freedom from abuse should not be subsumed in some bizarro-world version of religious liberty.
The rest of the piece discusses racist home removals, home-schooling, spanking, vaccinations, faith-healing and a whole slew of other areas where religious rights and parental authority often butt up against the rights of children to equal protection, bodily integrity and physical and mental health.
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