Agudath Israel decries NJ ban on sexual conversion therapy

Haredi communal organization blasts law banning therapists from counseling gay and lesbian youths to change their sexual orientation.

Gay pride and American flags 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
Gay pride and American flags 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
A New Jersey law banning conversion therapy for sexual orientation has generated ire from religious groups, including America’s ultra- Orthodox Jews.
The haredi Agudath Israel of America blasted the new measure, calling it “a trampling of personal rights, including religious and free speech rights.”
The measure, signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Monday, prevents therapists from counseling gay and lesbian youths to change their sexual orientation and makes New Jersey the second state to ban the so-called conversion therapy.
Citing medical and psychiatric research showing that sexual orientation is determined at birth, the law bans state-licensed counselors, therapists and social workers from practicing a method of talk therapy that opponents have said is deeply damaging to the self-esteem and identity of gay youths.
Christie said he was signing the legislation based on research that found “efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks, including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased selfesteem and suicidal thoughts.”
But he said he still had “concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children.”
Orthodox Jews oppose homosexuality on religious grounds, citing biblical verses proscribing the practice.
Agudath Israel is “deeply disappointed and saddened that the State of New Jersey now prohibits therapists from treating minors who have made a personal choice to seek help overcoming same-sex attraction,” Agudath Israel said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The new law tramples on the rights of mental health therapists to engage freely in their profession, and it unfairly denies teenagers seeking therapy for issues that are troubling them the ability to obtain professional help.”
Calling it “constitutionally suspect” and a “threat to civil and religious liberties,” the haredi organization compared the New Jersey law to a similar measure in California “that has been challenged in court and whose implementation is currently blocked.”
Conversion therapy is controversial. In June, California- based Exodus International, a Christian group that once championed such activity, apologized for the harm it caused and said it was shutting its doors after 38 years.
Jews who engage in conversion therapy have also come under fire. The Orthodox group Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) is being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a New Jersey court over what the center asserts are “fraudulent claims that their conversion therapy program will change sexual orientation from gay to straight.”