WASHINGTON -- A House subcommittee held a Tuesday hearing on religious freedom and, among other witnesses, Liberty University dean and professor of law Mathew Staver was there to explain why it's not fair that mental health professionals are barred in some states from trying to convert gay people into straight people.
In his testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Staver called it "religious discrimination" that two states, California and New Jersey, have passed laws prohibiting counselors from practicing gay conversion therapy on minors, a widely discredited approach to trying to change someone's sexual orientation. New York is also mulling a similar ban.
"Homosexual activists have attempted to enact laws throughout the country that would silence mental health professionals from expressing the truth that an individual can successfully reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity and live consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs concerning human sexuality," Staver wrote in his prepared remarks. "Those efforts are nothing more than an attempt to censor any viewpoint concerning scriptural teaching on human sexuality, and they represent one of the greatest assaults on children and families that has arisen in recent times."
Every major medical association has rejected the therapy as invalid and even harmful, including the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American School Counselor Association, the World Health Organization and the National Association of Social Workers.
Still, Staver insisted that any law banning conversion therapy "cuts to the very core" of a counselor's job, which is to provide clients with the information they want.
"That goes against the individual client's right to self-autonomy," he said. "It's unprecedented because there's no other area of counseling that falls anywhere in that [kind of] restrictive mandate."
The hearing, titled "The State of Religious Liberty In the United States," was called by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, called Staver's defense of conversion therapy "vitriolic and factually inaccurate."
His tirade "should serve as a reminder that, even as equality makes progress around the country, there are still many, many people fighting tooth and nail to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens," Warbelow said. "Mr. Staver's testimony is more than just wrong. It's actively harmful to LGBT people who have suffered through discrimination and medically baseless efforts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a member of the subcommittee, said Staver was blurring the line between religious freedom and blatant discrimination against someone for being gay. He noted that he was himself a sponsor of the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the author of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
"We always conceived of these as shields for religious freedom, not as swords to impose religious beliefs on other people," Nadler said.
Staver is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, he called Michelle Obama "an evil human being" and compared her to Adolf Hitler. In February, he said President Barack Obama should be impeached because governors and attorneys general were refusing to defend their states' constitutional bans on gay marriage.