You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger – James 1:19 (NASB)
For many Christian therapists and counselors, James 1:19 is a guiding principle. These caring, empathetic, wise men and women spend their careers holding their tongues so their ears can do the lion's share of the work first.
Human beings are complex creatures. We have thoughts, feelings, and emotions that affect and shape us. And many times, those thoughts, feelings, and emotions confuse us. So, it's helpful to have someone we trust to assist in sorting through what we experience in life.
One individual who has been wisely and successfully shepherding the "sorting" process for more than two decades is Brian Tingley.
Brian has maintained a private practice offering counseling since 2002. He works with diverse clients, including children, adults, and couples dealing with marital and family conflicts, sexual orientation and gender identity struggles, depression, anger, and stress management. In his practice, he engages in nothing but tried and true counseling methods—listening to each client, regardless of what they say or are facing, and supporting them as they work through these challenges to pursue the life goals they set for themselves.
Brian's faith stirs his compassionate care for his clients and commitment to their well-being. But he never has, nor will he ever, force his beliefs on anyone he counsels.
If only the State of Washington had that same mentality.
In 2018, the State adopted a law prohibiting any conversation between a counselor and a minor client in private counseling sessions in support of the client’s desire to bring his or her sense of gender, or sexual attractions, in line with his or her God-given biology.
Interestingly, the law only prohibits counsel that is not in line with the government’s views. For example, Washington allows counseling conversations that aim to steer a young person toward a transgender identity but prohibits conversations that aim to help that same individual return to comfort with his or her biological sex if that's a goal an individual sets. The consequences of violating this law could be devastating. Transgressors face fines of $5,000 per violation, suspension from practice, and even permanent revocation of a counselor's license.
Washington State isn't the only place where the free speech rights of counselors are jeopardized. There are 21 states, plus Washington, D.C., that have passed laws censoring private counseling conversations with minors. And there are over 100 municipalities that have enacted such laws or ordinances.
On top of that, as of the beginning of 2023, 22 states (plus Washington, D.C.) and over 370 municipalities have public accommodation laws pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity issues that could be misused to muzzle speech. These could significantly affect counselors and the work they do for their clients who come to them for help.
This wasn't front-page news last year, but it should have been. A city council in Indiana attempted to ban unlicensed individuals from providing counseling and help to clients that didn’t line up with its radical ideology. And this ban would have included pastors in the mix.
Most pastors speak into the lives of their congregants every Sunday, but many also speak wisdom, truth, and love into the lives of their parishioners throughout the week through pastoral counseling. Pastoral counseling is often an essential service a church provides, offering support, wisdom, and hope to individuals and families struggling with various life challenges and difficulties. This type of counseling offers invaluable spiritual insights coupled with practical wisdom that can make a positive difference in someone's life.
While the ban the city council in Indiana tried to pass ultimately failed, their brazen actions demonstrate that the threat is real and pressing. Aspects of pastoral ministry could be jeopardized if free speech rights are curtailed. Vigilance is required.
Pastors shouldn't be afraid to give counsel based on their biblical beliefs. While licensed counselors, like Brian Tingley, are facing the brunt of free speech infringements, pastors remain free to express their biblical beliefs on various issues without interference from the State.
But as our culture and the law continue to veer toward embracing censorship and intolerance, ADF stands ready to defend the right of both counselors and pastors to speak freely and truthfully in the counseling room.
The government should never control a counselor's speech with his or her clients nor dictate goals a client freely sets for him or herself. That's why Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in to defend Brian and his good, compassionate, and helpful work. We've petitioned the Supreme Court to hear his case and are awaiting a response.
The free speech of individuals seeking to help others flourish is too important to let the government censor. A counselor's office should be reserved for people seeking help and healing, not a government bent on denying biological reality while it tramples on inalienable constitutional rights.
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