Free speech concerns for church pastors after California lawmakers pass pro-LGBT resolution

A man dressed as the Statue of Liberty carries a rainbow American flag while marching in a gay pride parade in San Francisco, California June 28, 2015.Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

A resolution passed by the California Legislature has led to fears over the free speech rights of church pastors and other religious leaders when it comes to LGBT issues. 

Californian lawmakers last week approved Assembly Concurrent Resolution 99 by 61 votes to 11. 

The resolution suggests that religious and pro-conversion therapy groups contribute to high rates of suicide and mental health problems within the LGBT community. 

"The stigma associated with being LGBTQ often created by groups in society, including therapists and religious groups, has caused disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals," the resolution reads. 

It continues: "The State of California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including LGBTQ youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by family rejection and attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity.

"In a pluralistic society, people differing along spectrums of political and religious perspectives share a common responsibility of protecting the health and well-being of all children and vulnerable communities." 

The resolution makes a specific call to religious leaders to "counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy". 

Although the demands in the resolution are non-binding, they have given rise to concerns that pastors and other religious leaders will not be able to share a traditional perspective on sexuality from the pulpit or in books. 

Senator Andreas Borgeas said during a debate on the resolution that while it did not have the force of law, "we are treading into freedom of speech territory that I think should concern all of us." 

"When an individual seeks therapy or guidance before a religious leader, whether it be a mosque, a temple, or a church, that's a private setting," he said.

"To disallow or create the pathway where we tell individuals they can not say certain things should give us pause."

Senator John Moorlach said that while he did not support all of the "conversion therapy" methods used by counsellors, he suggested that people should be allowed to receive professional help if they have unwanted same-sex attraction.

"How can we foreclose on spiritual counselling when someone is on a journey and honestly inquiring about wanting to change and wants professional assistance?" he said.