Doyle, et al. v. Hogan, et al., No. 19-cv-00190 (D. Md.) Motion to Dismiss Granted September 20, 2019.
A Maryland statute governing the provision of mental health services precludes provision of “conversion” therapy to minors. Violation of the statute carries the risk of professional censure.
“Conversion” therapy is the name applied to interventions intended to reorient an individual’s sexual identity, presumably from same sex or other preferences to heterosexual interest. “Conversion” therapy has received substantial disapprobation from professional groups, and some professionals advocate that even if there were evidence to support the efficacy of conversion therapy, it should not be offered to minors.
Plaintiff Doyle asserted in federal court that the preclusion of delivery of conversion therapy to minors unconstitutionally impaired his speech rights and his religious liberty.
The court disagreed, finding that while the conversion therapy involved speech, the administration of therapy was in fact conduct outside the realm of constitutional concern.
Moreover, the court observed, the therapist’s freedom to speak of or about conversion therapy remains untouched by the statute. A mental health services provider may provide information about or express an opinion about conversion therapy without fear.
Central to the court’s determination was the inability of minors to provide informed consent for treatment. As the state interest in the health and well being of minors is at least substantial, if not compelling, imposing limitations on professional conduct to which the minor is legally unable to consent is not unreasonable. In that minor children are not capable of autonomously exercising informed consent and in that others may exercise consent on their behalf, the state is not wrong in protecting minors from treatment to which they could not accede as a matter of law.
The court concluded that as therapist’s speech interests are not within the statute’s purview, neither were free exercise rights abridged, as the prohibition on “conversion” therapy for minors is a law of general applicability which does not substantially interfere with any belief or practice of religion.
The statute applies only to those who are licensed practitioners within Maryland.