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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Protecting Gay Teens Trumps Religious Rights

California's ban on conversion therapy withstands a second challenge.
A shady practice.

A shady practice.

Source: Petrified Collection

California’s ban on gay-conversion therapy for teens survived a free-speech challenge back in 2014. Now it’s survived another challenge claiming that the law targets religiously motivated conduct. The decision is legally correct -- but it’s a much closer case than the appeals court acknowledged. And it raises the extremely tricky question of how the state may regulate a psychiatric practice whose foundations are interwoven with religious beliefs.

The key to the free-speech decision from two years ago was that, California isn’t prohibiting speech per se. It’s outlawing a particular medical practice that happens to be accomplished in part through talking. Whether it’s a good idea or not, state legislatures have the legal authority to prohibit licensed providers from performing ineffective and potentially harmful medical treatments.