NYC pays $100,000 for censoring psychotherapist’s private conversations with patients

Victory for Orthodox Jewish counselor who sued to protect his First Amendment freedoms
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

 
NEW YORK – The city of New York agreed to pay $100,000 in attorneys’ fees and nominal damages this week after the city council backtracked and repealed an ordinance that unconstitutionally censored private conversations between counseling professionals and their patients.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 2019 to halt enforcement of the city’s new ordinance that violated Schwartz’s freedom of speech and infringed on his religious faith and that of his patients.

In the face of the lawsuit, the city backtracked on its previous legislation and, last September, voted to repeal the counseling ban. In light of the repeal and this settlement, Schwartz and his attorneys are dismissing their lawsuit in Schwartz v. City of New York.

“All New Yorkers and all Americans deserve the right to private conversations, free from government control,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks. “New York City directly violated our client’s freedom of speech by trying to regulate and censor private sessions between an adult and his therapist. While the city eventually saw the writing on the wall and reversed course, it needlessly cost the taxpayers of New York tens of thousands of dollars for enacting its unconstitutional policy in the first place, because Dr. Schwartz was forced to go to court to protect his rights. Other cities should not repeat the same error. We’re grateful that New York City is no longer threatening to censor Dr. Schwartz’s conversations and impose government-approved orthodoxy on him or his patients.”

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 prohibited counsel in one direction—assisting a patient who desires to reduce same-sex attraction or achieve comfort with their biological sex. The law threatened fines of up to $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 was 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.

Nelson, Madden, Black LLP attorney Barry Black, one of nearly 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF, served 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.
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Dovid (Duh-VEED’)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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