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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

'Ex-gay' ministry plays the victim card

Late last month it appeared the odious Tennessee "ex-gay" ministry Love In Action was on the verge of being forced to either get a license to continue its brand of (ahem) "therapy" or close its doors. Now, however, it appears that Love In Action has pulled a third option out of a hat: play the victim card and claim it's the object of an anti-Christian bias.

You may remember Love In Action made the news this summer when Zack Stark, a 16-year-old Tennessee youth, was sent there against his will by his parents after he came out to them. Zack's blog about his fears of being sent to Love In Action soon went zooming around the internet and drew plenty of attention to the plight of the young man.

According to Nate Kellum, LIA's attorney who was quote in an Associated Press story, LIA claims that its free speech and religious expression rights are being violated by Tennessee's licensing requirements.

Love In Action is not designed or intended to provide mental health care, but rather to minister from a Christian perspective, Kellum said.

Licensure is prohibitively expensive, the group claims in its brief, and, "it is repugnant to LIA's mission and purpose to have its ministry regulated by the state."

Kellum said Tennessee's investigations were "prejudicially motivated" and a result of political pressure on the state from groups such as the Queer Action Coalition and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays.

So let's get this straight (so to speak). LIA bills itself as a center offering reparative and conversion therapy to gays (both of which havthoroughlyorougly repudiated by the American Psychiatric Association) ... but when the state of Tennessee begins to question whether it should have a license to provide mental health services, LIA's claim of offering "therapy" sudden changes to "Oh no! You must have misunderstood. We are a ministry."

And to complain that the investigation into LIA is "prejudicially motivated" because LGBT-friendly groups raised the issue makes as much sense as claiming that consumer groups are "anti-profit" when they call corporations to task over safety issues in the automotive industry.

For groups like LIA to hide behind their status as religious organization is disingenuous at best. Government has a duty to assure that all its citizens are protected from harm. That's why the pharmaceutical industry is regulated to make sure that new drugs are safe before being put on the market. That's why food products are subject to inspection before they get put on store shelves.

But religious organizations claim they get a "pass" when it comes to looking at the efficacy of "therapeutic" services they offer. It's ironic how fun-D'uh-Mental-ists howl about separation of church and state when it stands in their way of a goal they want. But when they fear the government taking a look into their operations, they wave a big banner and loudly proclaim "You can't touch us! We're a RELIGIOUS institution!"

Obviously, there are types of "ministries" that cross the line of the Free Exercise of Religion Clause. The state has an interest in prohibiting human sacrifices, as one extreme example. Likewise, the state should be concerned when people are "treated" by methods that the scientific and medical establishment have determined to be not only ineffective, but harmful. Make no mistake about it - the therapies offered by LIA and its ilk are harmful and leave in their wake depressed, profoundly unhappy clients who are at much increased risk of suicide.

I truly wish the government would call these "ex-gay" ministries to task. Call them in and make them prove their extremely inflated claims of success. Make them produce evidence that their "graduates" are leading happy, fulfilled lives now. Have them justify themselves as a legitimate form of treatment.

No doubt the fundies would shout "persecution!" from the highest rooftops and play the victim card. But the duty of the government to keep citizens from harm trumps the right of religious groups to be given carte blanche to dispense treatment proven to be harmful with impunity.