Following debate about religious counseling, Lawrence City Commission to again consider banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors
After deferring the vote earlier this month, city leaders will soon consider adopting an ordinance that would ban so-called conversion therapy that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting Ordinance 9828, which would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy for minors. The commission deferred the vote on April 6, after disagreement regarding how to handle counseling provided by members of religious organizations.
At issue was whether the ordinance should specifically single out clergy and other religious figures as being an exception to the ordinance. The ordinance makes it unlawful for any “provider” to provide conversion therapy to a minor. As suggested by Commissioner Jennifer Ananda, an amended version of the draft ordinance has taken out a sentence that explicitly stated that providers did not include “members of the clergy who are acting in their roles as clergy or pastoral counselors and providing religious counseling to congregants, and who are not performing under the authority of a license.”
City legal staff previously told the commission that the exception had been included to avoid legal challenges based on the First Amendment, which protects religious freedoms. However, even without the exception, the ordinance would still not apply to the many clergy or religious figures that provide counsel without a license.
As before, the ordinance defines a provider as “any licensed, certified, or registered medical professional or mental health professional.” In a memo to the commission, Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said that upon further review, it was determined that the sentence excepting clergy was unnecessary to the meaning of the term provider and that it was clearly defined without it.
In an email to the Journal-World, Garcia said that the sentence concerning clergy in the previous draft of the ordinance was intended to make clear that clergy and other religious leaders are not included in the definition of provider. She said removing that clarification has no effect on the intended person or persons meeting the definition of a provider.
Regarding whether that ordinance applies to members of the clergy or other religious figures that counsel without a license, Garcia said the draft ordinance as written would apply only to a person who is a licensed, certified or registered medical professional or mental health professional. Regarding whether clergy and other religious figures are able to practice conversion therapy without a license under other city code, Garcia said there are no other provisions of city code that directly address the practice of conversion therapy, whether it be for clergy and other religious figures or anyone else.
Efforts to pass a state law specifically banning conversion therapy occurred in the Kansas Legislature in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but those draft bills were unsuccessful and did not make it out of committee, according to a previous memo to the commission. Garcia previously told the commission that 20 states and numerous municipalities, including Roeland Park in the Kansas City area, have banned the practice of conversion therapy. Garcia also previously noted that various professional organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have said conversion therapy is unfounded and detrimental to those who undergo it.
The City Commission will convene virtually for its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.