American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

A Response to California Senate Bill 1172

Some of you may be aware of new legislation (California Senate Bill 1172) recently passed by the California State Senate and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. Left undisputed, this law will go into effect January 1, 2013, and has critical and far reaching implications for Christian counselors. While the focus of the legislation was to address the issue of reparative therapies for same sex attraction among adolescents, the bill moves significantly beyond this purpose by threatening the religious freedoms of minor clients and their fundamental ethical right to self-determination, as well as undermining long held parental rights.

Why is This Legislation Important and Why is the AACC Involved?
First and foremost, we do not view the case as one that primarily addresses the use or discontinuation of reparative therapy. In fact, the research regarding this treatment modality remains inconclusive and the AACC is not advocating for or against these protocols. However, what does alarm us is the blatant disregard for faith values and the unnecessary restrictions that will be placed on clients and their families. This should be a wakeup call for every mental health practitioner, whether secular or faith-based. Anytime a client’s rights to religious freedom and self-determination are infringed upon, the profession must rise up as a strong voice and advocate for these sacred principles. Additionally, there are thousands of children who are devastated by sexual abuse every year and the trauma of the experience frequently leaves them anxious and confused about their sexual identities. They must be given the unrestricted opportunity to freely discuss the nature of the abuse and any same sex attractions that may have developed because of it, as well as their values and beliefs on the matter. The intent of this misguided legislation is one thing, but the potential effects on the practice of counseling and other unseen consequences are alarming.

As a result of the California bill, Liberty Counsel has filed an injunction with the State of California Federal Court to stop the implementation of the SB 1172 “change therapy” ban law. Since these issues matter greatly to Christian counselors, the AACC has agreed to be an organizational plaintiff in the case. Liberty Counsel was granted a primary injunction hearing on November 30th and expects a ruling from the court sometime this coming week regarding its motion.

How SB 1171 Violates Free Speech and Religious Liberty

Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel shares, “This law is an astounding violation of the right to free speech and religious liberty. Clients have the right to receive information that aligns with their values, and counselors have the right and the duty to provide information to help the clients in pursuit of their right to self-determination. The law must be stopped before irreparable damage is done to clients and the counseling profession.”

Regardless of what state you practice in, California’s “change therapy” ban law infringes on personal rights, as well as those of the client. The legislation inhibits minors (and their parents) from seeking help for unwanted same-sex sexual attraction. SB 1172 further infringes on the ability to provide mental healthcare that aligns with a client’s Christian values. This is a critical precedent-setting case, and one that will significantly impact the future of Christian counseling! If enacted into law, SB 1172 will likely serve as a template for other states to implement similar legislation. The AACC urges you to become educated on the current situation and, if you are willing, sign Liberty Counsel’s Open Letter of Support.

Implications of this Legislation on Christian Counselors and Clients

As organizational leadership, we believe it is important to inform our members about SB 1172, its implications and the current legal battle now ensuing. Liberty Counsel outlines below the legislation’s negative effects on clients seeking help:

  • “A new California law banning any counseling to overcome same-sex attraction will put families, teens, and counselors on the wrong side of the law. In effect, the law tells Californians that only the state knows what’s best regarding this sensitive psychological issue. Only counsel that affirms homosexuality as normal and good will be permitted. Any counsel that seeks to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions will be banned…. The new law requires minors to receive, and counselors to provide, only one view on same-sex attractions… even when the client does not want to act on those attractions!”
  • This law places the state between the client and his or her counselor and intrudes on a client’s fundamental right of self-determination. Clients have the right to seek counseling that aligns with his/her religious and moral values! The law also forces counselors to overrule the will of their clients who choose to prioritize their religious or moral values above unwanted same-sex sexual attraction.”
  • “This outrageous, unconstitutional law even forbids counselors from referring clients to someone of their choice! For the state to assume that it knows best what kind of counseling individuals should receive is the height of hubris and ignorance. California is, in essence, demanding that counselors disregard their clients’ religious beliefs—or change them!
  • “Unless this law is struck down by our lawsuit, the only viewpoint allowed in California will be that same-sex attractions are healthy and that any attempt to reduce or eliminate them will be prohibited by law!”
The AACC’s Official Affidavit for this Case

Eric Scalise, Ph.D., Vice President of Professional Development, has submitted an affidavit on behalf of the AACC’s role as an organizational plaintiff in the present legal case. The following are excerpts from the AACC’s sworn affidavit:

  • “The AACC believes the professional research literature and a number of peer-reviewed articles demonstrate positive support for the efficacy of faith, spirituality and religious values as they pertain to treatment outcomes. For example, prominent researcher, Dr. Harold Koenig, Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, completed a systematic review of nearly 1,600 published health-related studies and concluded that the integration of a spiritual paradigm not only demonstrates increased levels of self-esteem, social support and life satisfaction, but simultaneously reduces levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicide.”
  • “The AACC further believes the research literature supports the notion that when a client receives care within the confines of his/her basic worldview and foundational value system—of which religious affiliation is a significant marker for most—treatment outcomes are more positive.”
  • “The AACC strongly believes in the time-honored and foundational ethical value of client self-determination. California Senate Bill 1172 directly and significantly undermines what is considered as a cornerstone principle in the treatment of mental health disorders. This principle can be found in the language of the ethical codes of notable professional member organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Counseling Association (ACA), and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT), to name a few.”
  • “It is the AACC’s position that every client seeking mental health services has the inherent right to participate in treatment that is in alignment with his/her religious beliefs and faith-based values and, furthermore, to have this right vigorously protected.”
  • “One of ACA’s [American Counseling Association] divisions, the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC), has developed written spiritual competencies to be incorporated into treatment protocols. In reviewing the proceedings at the 2007 ACA national conference in Detroit, Michigan, ASERVIC hosted a panel discussion of educators and clinicians. These individuals were intentionally identified as being nationally recognized for their expertise in teaching and research in the area of spirituality in counseling.” [Eight of the competencies having particular relevance to the discussion of the effects of SB 1172 were given.]
  • “The AACC believes, as evidenced in the language of the above listed competencies—in particular #8 and #12—a client’s spiritual and religious values are, indeed, valid and reasonable determinants for the focus and direction of treatment.”
  • “The AACC believes Senate Bill 1172 places prospective clients in an untenable double bind when receiving mental health services related to gender identity and/or sexual orientation issues, especially when their religious values may inform and direct their behavior in a manner contrary to same sex attraction. Furthermore, Senate Bill 1172 may, in fact, represent actual harm to the client because it does not allow the treating practitioner to address these competing value systems, leaving the client with no means to process the potential inner conflict.”
  • “While acknowledging the current controversy over the implementation of sexual orientation change therapies, the general lack of conclusive research in this area, and the legitimate need for adolescents to receive competent care when addressing issues pertaining to sexual orientation, the AACC firmly believes that Senate Bill 1172 moves far beyond its original intent to protect minor clients and represents a reckless infringement on the religious liberties of anyone needing treatment.”
  • “The ACCC believes when a client’s faith values may be in conflict with other cultural values, especially as they may pertain to the language found in Senate Bill 1172, that ultimately the client—and in the case of a minor, his/her parent or legal guardian—has the moral and ethical right to participate in and determine the appropriate course of care, including alignment with his/her relevant religious beliefs.”
  • “In light of the above statement, the AACC strongly believes that Senate Bill 1172 unfairly and unnecessarily discriminates against the religious liberties of the client and represents an intrusive and potentially damaging dynamic regarding the delivery of care.”
Further Clarification on the AACC’s Intent and Position

In response to initial objections from the California Attorney General’s office, Dr. Scalise has further clarified AACC’s position on several of the issues that were raised:

  1. The AACC is not really engaging in the substantive question as it pertains to the scientific efficacy of SOCE and/or reparative therapy. Rather, what the AACC is concerned about is a client’s right to have his/her faith values respected within the therapeutic milieu. The research literature does demonstrate the efficacy of faith integration and the role of spirituality in therapy, thereby making it relevant.
  2. Second, the AACC is advocating that every client has a fundamental right to self-determination in therapy. Our organization, likewise, believes that ethics codes (across the disciplines of psychology, counseling, social work, and marriage & family therapy) support this cornerstone principle. This construct is further supported by the statements previously given in the ASERVIC guidelines on a client’s religious values.
  3. Third, because both California Senate Bill 1172 and the tenants of the three major religions in this country (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) address the subject of sexual orientation and behavior, faith values and a client’s choices do most definitely become relevant.
  4. Fourth, if a client’s faith values are in conflict with his/her sexual orientation and/or behavior, then we believe the client, and not the state, should have the right to ultimately determine which set of values are to be incorporated into one’s life. Senate Bill 1172 restricts a mental health provider from engaging therapeutically with a client on this subject, regardless of any emotional or psychological duress the client may be experiencing due to the conflict of values.
  5. Finally, the regulatory language that is already part of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences makes full and sufficient provision for reporting, investigating and addressing known or alleged harm committed toward a client receiving services (see www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/publications/lawsregs.pdf and, more specifically: (1) Chapter 13. Marriage and Family Therapists, Article 2. Denial, Suspension and Revocation, Section 4982. Unprofessional Conduct; (2) Chapter 13.5. Licensed Educational Psychologists, Article 5. Enforcement; (3) Chapter 13.7. Board of Behavioral Sciences, Article 2. Disciplinary Actions; and (4) Chapter 14. Social Workers, Article 5. Enforcement to name a few).
Staying True to the AACC’s Mission

As has already been mentioned, SB 1171 clearly violates clients’ rights to free speech and religious liberty. The AACC leadership believes our organization’s involvement in the current legal case is vital to protecting our members and ensuring our mission—to equip the “continuum of care” with distinctively-Christian and clinically-sound psychoeducational resources and services that address the whole person and help individuals move toward personal wholeness, interpersonal competence, mental stability, and spiritual maturity.

Furthermore, the AACC seeks to encourage and support Christian counseling worldwide; disseminate information, educational resources, and counseling aids; stimulate interaction and mutual growth between mental health practitioners; advocate for the balanced integration of counseling and psychological principles with theology; inspire and offer the highest levels of training and continuing education; and promote ethical practice, integrity, sound research, and excellence in the delivery of professional and pastoral services.

We appreciate your work on the “front lines” of Christian counseling and care and are committed to doing everything possible to protect your rights and those of your clients. Please pray for God’s favor in the current legal case in California!

Sincerely,

Tim Clinton
President, AACC

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