By: Joshua Paladino

The California Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Tuesday regarding a bill that supporters say protects the LGBTQ community and critics believe is a gross violation of free speech and freedom of religion.

Pro-family groups gathered outside the California Legislature to protest AB 2943, which would make illegal “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”

Proponents of the bill say it will prevent counseling and conversion therapy that some psychologists believe may lead to “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

Opponents of the bill, including the California Family Council, say AB 2943 could threaten First Amendment rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Matt Sharp explained the possible implications of the bill: “It’s ultimately a restriction on speech when it comes to discussions of sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, it says that this is now a fraudulent practice to engage in this. And so whether you’re a church holding a conference where you’re discussing these issues, you could see a bookstore selling a book helping people address some of these issues, counselors wanting to help a middle-aged mom that’s struggling with some confusion.”

Sharp added that such restrictions could perhaps outlaw the sale of the Bible itself.

Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat from Silicon Valley and a sponsor of AB 2943, says the opposition misunderstands the bill. “This bill is express in its terms of limiting the practice of conversion therapy as a commercial service in exchange for monetary compensation. It does not apply to the sale of books or any other kinds of goods. It does not prevent anyone from speaking or writing on the subject of conversion therapy in any form.”

He added that the Bible “absolutely would not be banned.”

The bill passed the California General Assembly on April 19 with a 50-18 majority vote. The bill is expected to clear the California Senate Judiciary Committee and head to the full Senate, where Democrats hold a super majority.