– In the wake of a lawsuit
, the New York City council has voted to repeal an ordinance that censors private conversations between counseling professionals and their patients. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an Orthodox Jewish psychotherapist, Dr. Dovid Schwartz, asked a federal district court in June to halt enforcement of the city’s new ordinance that violates Schwartz’s freedom of speech and infringes on his religious faith and that of his patients.
“All New Yorkers and all Americans deserve the right to private conversations, free from government control,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks. “By trying to regulate and censor private sessions between an adult and his counselor, New York City directly violated freedom of speech—a core right that the First Amendment protects. The city council appears to have realized its error and correctly concluded that this censorship is unconstitutional. The city council’s vote was the right thing to do, and it is an important win for Dr. Schwartz, his patients, and all New Yorkers.”
In 2018, the city council adopted a law making it illegal for any person to provide services for a fee that “seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or seek to change a person’s gender identity to conform to the sex of such individual that was recorded at birth.” Notably, the law only prohibits counsel in one direction—assisting a patient who desires to reduce same-sex attraction or achieve comfort with their biological sex. The law threatens increasing fines of $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000 for first, second, and subsequent violations. By contrast, counseling that steers a patient towards a gender identity different than his or her physical body is permitted.
Over the course of his over 50 years of general practice, Schwartz has regularly encountered and served patients who want his help overcoming same-sex attraction. Because of their religious beliefs and personal life goals, clients who seek his counsel often desire to experience opposite-sex attraction so they can marry, form a natural family, and live consistently with their Orthodox Jewish faith. A number of patients have pursued and achieved those goals with the aid of his psychotherapeutic services. Schwartz uses no techniques in working with his patients other than listening and talking—yet the 2018 law claimed to forbid even that.
“The government does not belong in a therapist’s office,” said Schwartz. “I’m relieved that the city council has decided not to step into my office and tell my patients what we can and cannot talk about—something it has no right to do. My patients come to me voluntarily, with every man or woman who walks through my door seeking help to live the life they want to live. And I’ve seen many of them achieve the outcome they want. Because of the community I serve, nearly all my patients share my faith, and they seek out my counsel about issues of sexuality and family in part because my perspective is grounded in our mutual Jewish faith and shared respect for Torah teachings. I’m grateful that my city council is no longer threatening to censor those conversations and impose government-approved orthodoxy on me or my patients.”
Nelson, Madden, Black LLP attorney Barry Black, one of nearly 3,400 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as co-counsel in the case, Schwartz v. City of New York
, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.