A strident op-ed titled “We Are Under Attack by the LGBTPed Community” was published on 5TJT.com and has been picked up by YWN. The article argues that government bans on so called Conversion Therapy is an assault on religious freedom. This sort of therapy has been discussed on this blog previously. See: Conversion Therapy.
The upshot of the article is that Agudath Israel, OU, and NCYI need to lobby against these bans that, as the author concludes, “deprives both minors and therapists the freedom of seeking out therapies that will encourage redirection for those struggling with unhealthy physical attractions. This is a direct assault on religious freedoms in this state by the LGBTPed community, and we must put in an all-out effort to quash this bill.”
There is so much wrong with this op-ed. Too many of the assumptions in the article are based on familiar, and erroneous, conservative Daas Radio talking points.
The headline is obscene. It implies that there is equivalence between LGBT and pedophiles. Leaving aside the issue of whether these tendencies are inborn or learned, or whether they are deviant tendencies, LGBT and pedophilia cannot be uttered in the same sentence with a straight face. One who is LGBT and acts on those tendencies with a consenting adult may be a sinner in the eyes of some religions or God. However, they are acting in a loving and respectful manner. A pedophile who acts on their tendencies is taking advantage of a child. This is a violent, selfish, abusive act. There is no moral equivalence between the two and we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of equating the two under any circumstance.
There is an assumption that Orthodox organizations do not work together with Christian lobbyists. This is incorrect. The frum organizations joined Christian forces in opposing the “contraception mandate” portion of the American Healthcare Act. (See: Controlling Birth Control and OU and Agudah Unite Against Contraceptives on DovBear). There is plenty of evidence that Orthodox Jewish organizations and conservative Christians work together on many things. This is just something that they are (thankfully) choosing to ignore (so far).
Banning Conversion Therapy is not an assault on freedom nor is it an attack against religion. The 9th Circuit correctly ruled that these bans are not an assault on freedom because they do not regulate speech. They regulate professional activity. We are guaranteed freedom of speech, not freedom of professional activity. It’s no different than any law that regulates psychologists or lawyers or really any profession where the bulk of the work being done is speech. When speech is used in a professional context like therapy it is not simply speech, it becomes conduct. The government has the right to regulate professional conduct. Just because much of the conduct is speech, the power the government has to regulate the conduct does not magically become limited.
Also, as Professor Volokh notes, even though the science of whether something is harmful or helpful may change, as long as the government leaves the issue open for reevaluation based on the current science, the law is fair. It’s not an assault on freedom. Orthodox Jews are free to teach Leviticus and we are free to deny any religious rights and privileges to anyone we so choose. But the state can still regulate therapy. This is not an attack on religion.
Further, the horror stories of JONAH participants is enough to discourage any of us from lamenting laws that prohibit them from engaging in dangerous forms of therapy. Disallowing this kind of therapy protects children and teens from potential harms. I’ve been told that JONAH also provides therapy to sex abusers, oftentimes together with LGBT people. This is a clear message to LGBT people that they are viewed as equals to sex abusers. Protecting its citizens is certainly within the rights of a state. The lack of scientific evidence to support Conversion Therapy combined with the harmful activities associated with organizations like JONAH are enough to support the state’s decision to ban it.
There is nothing to be gained by dehumanizing LGBT people. They have been made to feel subhuman for their tendencies enough times in their lives. We don’t need to pile on. In fact, it would be really great if we could somehow assure people who have been through so much already that they are loved and accepted no matter their preferences behind closed doors. While it’s true that we cannot proclaim that an act we believe to be a sin is not a sin, we are not obligated to do everything in our power to make their lives miserable. Indeed, it is not uncommon for LGBT people to feel unloved and shunned by the Orthodox Jewish community. Is there any group that would benefit more from a little extra love and affection from the rest of us? Perhaps not.
Too often I see it formulated this way. Homosexuality is wrong. We cannot compromise on that. Therefore we reject all attempts to normalize these activities. Further we oppose any legitimization of LGBTs by way of civil rights and privileges. But of course we love all Jews, even the gays.
This is all wrong. I believe the correct formulation should be as follows. No matter a person’s private activities, we love our fellow Jews. Those who are in pain or are outcasts deserve extra love and sympathy. It is far too common for LGBTs people to feel like outcasts. Our primary concern has to be their emotional welfare. We can’t allow our children, brothers, and sisters to feel like they are alone or disassociated from their families. That comes first. Their religious or spiritual welfare comes second and only long after concern number one is sufficiently satisfied.
We’re all quite familiar with the prohibitions in the Torah. It’s not a valid concern to think that expressing our unconditional love to LGBT people or laws granting rights to LGBTs or preventing certain forms of therapy will somehow subsume the relevant prohibitions. I see no reason that the normalization of LGBT people would have any more of an effect on Orthodox Jewish society than the normalization of eating McDonald’s will make Orthodox Jews start eating Mickey D’s.
One final word on the subject for now. Social conservatives have made this one of their primary issues. I don’t claim to understand their reasoning or justification for this choice. However, when it comes to Orthodox Judaism, we have no mandate that requires us to give more attention to this than any other issue facing our community. We are not beholden to their selective outrage machine. The constant use of euphemisms like Toeiva or anti-Torah when referring to this particular issue and not to others is a baffling social phenomenon. I can think of at least a few dozen matters that deserve more attention and derision than this issue. Let’s refocus the collective energy and place it on other things that matter more.
Think about the teens, young adults, and everyone else who needs our love more than anything else right now. They are people with lives and feelings and fears just like the rest of us. We are really not under attack from them. If anything, the are under attack from us. Please don’t ever forget that.
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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.
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