Case Dismissed Victory: Pastors Free to Counsel Concerning Same-Sex Attraction

On February 15, federal Judge Ronald Guzman ruled that pastors are not subject to the Illinois’ Youth Mental Health Protection Act (YMHPA) that went into effect January 1, 2016; consequently Illinois pastors can now feel less risk in telling counselees that Jesus can help them with unwanted same-sex attraction. This is truly a victory as it frees pastors to counsel to those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and see homosexual behavior as sin. It is important we spread the word on this win. One of the plaintiffs, Pastor Steve Stultz stated, "The ruling by the federal judge is good news for youth living in the State of Illinois. It means that young people may freely seek and receive Biblical counsel and the ministry they need to build their lives and conduct their relationships on the solid foundation of God’s Word. I applaud the judge’s ruling, because it also recognizes my right, as a Christian pastor, to provide counsel according to godly standards without also running afoul of the laws of my home state."

The plaintiffs, Mauck & Baker clients, a group of five Illinois pastors and two church associations, expressed fear of being charged with consumer fraud should they counsel that homosexual conduct is a sin. We argued that ambiguous language in YMHPA threatens their ability to counsel to minors and others that homosexual conduct is a sin, especially because all of the pastors are compensated by their congregations for their counseling as part of their overall pastoral services. The Act reads, “No person or entity may, in the conduct of trade or commerce, use or employ any deception, fraud…in offering conversion therapy services in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.” The plaintiffs all consider homosexual conduct to be a “disorder” in human condition. They dare call it sin. The court ruled that the law does not apply to pastors because such counseling is not in trade or commerce, saying that “the ordinary meaning of these terms [trade or commerce] does not suggest they apply to private religious counseling.”

Although the ruling protects only Illinois pastors from liability under Illinois law, Guzman’s ruling has potential national implications consistent with the view of many religious freedom advocates that the government can never regulate pastoral counseling because pastors are not in commerce. Likewise, President Donald Trump’s recent declaration about the federal Johnson Amendment, which prohibits pastors and churches from endorsing candidates, suggests a larger scope of church autonomy where government may not or should not intrude. In this case, Guzman cited debate in the Illinois legislature indicating Illinois was choosing not to intrude.

The opinion considers different definitions of trade and commerce and determined that they in no way threaten pastors’ ability to engage in pastoral counseling, stating that, “The Act’s only penalties apply to mental health professionals or to those who deceptively advertise conversion therapy for commercial purpose. Plaintiffs fit neither mold.”

Mauck & Baker attorney John W. Mauck said, “Freedom of speech is at the heart of this case; the unrestrained freedom for pastors to counsel people, and for people to obtain that counsel so they can make fully informed, wise decisions. The democrats in Springfield aimed to restrict reparative therapy even at the pastoral level because in 2016 they defeated an amendment to give pastors an explicit exemption from the act. Yesterday’s ruling means men and women, girls and boys with unwanted same-sex attraction can receive reparative therapy help from pastors even though the law prevents them from obtaining it from licensed counselors.”

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV).

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