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Supreme Court Lets Ban on “Conversion Therapy” Stand


As it works to clear its caseload before summer recess, the US Supreme Court said yesterday that it will not hear a case contesting a California ban on “conversion therapy.”

California was the first state to ban the practice, which is aimed at changing the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian minors.

Scientific and medical groups have said that there is no evidence that sexual attractions can be changed. Experts generally contend that “conversion therapy” not only doesn’t work, but causes harm.

Some conservative and religious groups had challenged the ban, arguing that it violates the free speech rights of counselors or people seeking treatment.

The Supreme Court did not comment on why it declined to hear the case, as is usual.

The California law says professional therapists and counselors who use treatments designed to eliminate or reduce same-sex attractions in their patients would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards. The law does not cover the actions of pastors and lay counselors who are unlicensed.

The law was supposed to come into effect last year, but was delayed as it was challenged in the courts.

After the California law passed, New Jersey passed a similar law banning “conversion therapy” for children and teens. Another eight states and the District of Columbia have pending legislation modeled after the California and New Jersey laws, but lawmakers in five other states have refused to pass similar bans.

In the Adventist church’s conference on homosexuality in Cape Town this spring, some speakers conceded that being gay is not a choice — a change in thinking for the Adventist party line.

Dave Ferguson, a former Adventist pastor, was happy to learn that the Supreme Court is letting the California ban stand. Ferguson was one of those who felt defrauded after spending six months in Colin Cook’s discredited “conversion therapy” program, Quest Learning Center, in Reading, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1980.

“I was desperate to change after trying fasting and prayer, laying on of hands for healing, hundreds or maybe thousands of hours of professional psychotherapy, being pronounced cured several times, and an exorcism by a Baptist,” he says. “I was willing to believe whatever an Adventist, who was endorsed by the denomination, told me to ‘cure me’ of my homosexuality.”

Ferguson had read about Cook’s program in Ministry magazine, and requested a six-month sabbatical to go to Quest, where he was one of the first to enroll.

As part of the program, Ferguson was required to listen to a long series of tapes Cook had made, read material that described how a person became homosexual because of a dominant mother and absent father, and write a letter to GC President Neal Wilson, asserting that he had been cured.

“It didn’t take very long to find out I had been deceived,” Ferguson says. “What I had achieved was behavior modification — my orientation did not change. I was still gay.”

A year later, a relative warned Ferguson that Cook was said to be having sex with younger gay men in the program.

“While the denomination doesn’t currently have a live-in program like Quest,” Ferguson says, “it has continued to promote spokespersons who claim to have changed.  Yet, most, if not all, of them admit that they are still tempted by those of the same sex.  If one has changed, why would they still be tempted? Since my experience, I have had conversations with many Adventists who have tried desperately and prayed for years, but have not had their prayers answered.  To say they have not prayed hard enough or with enough sincerity only belittles them and God.”

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