California lawmakers are considering the country’s first ban on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy for adults (Assembly Bill 2943). While several states and cities have passed bans on conversion therapy, which has been found to be both ineffective and harmful, those bans have only protected minors from the stigmatizing “treatment.” Sensing the urgent need to defend their ability to try to shame queer people into submission, Christian conservatives are now claiming the legislation would ban the Bible.
The myth has already become so pervasive that Snopes has already had to debunk it. It spread wildly last week after One America News interviewed California Assembly member — and gubernatorial candidate — Travis Allen (R). Host Liz Wheeler directly asked him if the bill would ban the Bible, and he said, “Yes, it would.” Later in the interview, he again said, “As this bill is written, it would be banning the Bible in California.”
The Bible ban myth likely originated from a legal memo opposing AB 2943 published by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ hate group. While it doesn’t mention the Bible specifically, it warns that the law could prohibit the “numerous books [that] have been written to help those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion.”
Conservative Christians claim that the Bible informs their beliefs that LGBTQ identities are wrong and that salvation can be found in rejecting them, so it didn’t take much for them to jump to the claim that the Bible would be on that list of supposedly banned books. It’s by no means an objective conclusion that this is what the Bible says, as many Christians believe the exact opposite — that it speaks to inclusion and respecting LGBTQ people for who they are. But just about every anti-LGBTQ organization and publication is now trumpeting the claim that the bill would ban the Bible.
CBN News ran the headline “Bible Ban Possible?” Monday, describing the aim of the bill as “banning Christian books and resources which address issues of homosexuality and gender identity.” It was the second CBN article in the past week to suggest the bill would lead to banning the Bible, relying on a claim from the Liberty Counsel. The Family Research Council’s Travis Weber warned Monday that “there is no reason why it can’t be construed to include a church bookstore offering these books, and even the Bible itself.”
Over at The Federalist, Robert Gagnon — who has a long history of using theology to justify extreme anti-LGBTQ positions and once compared gay-straight alliances to the Ku Klux Klan — attacked Snopes outright for its debunk of the myth. “Don’t you believe it for a moment,” he insisted.
Others have warned about the bill banning books but stopped just short of mentioning the Bible. National Review’s David French claimed the bill would “ban the sale of books expressing orthodox Christian beliefs about sexual morality.” The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal claimed this week that the bill “claims to protect LGBT people, but actually limits their choices, censors speech, and infringes upon religious freedom.”
It’s absurd on its face that the law could do anything to censor books. The First Amendment provides robust protections against “prior restraint,” the legal term for attempts to prohibit publishing and other forms of expression.
The bill actually updates the state’s consumer fraud protections by adding the following prohibition: “Advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.” The bill defines this as including “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
That’s it. That’s the full extent of the changes the bill would make. It doesn’t add anything about books or speakers or anything that conservatives are claiming.
AB 2943’s approach actually mirrors a legal strategy used by several survivors of a Jewish ex-gay program called JONAH, who successfully sued the organization for violating New Jersey’s consumer protection laws. (Because JONAH attempted to continue operating under a different name, that case is still ongoing). New Jersey didn’t have a law like AB 2943, but the young men prevailed by convincing the court that conversion therapy is ineffective and harmful — and therefore advertising and providing it constituted fraud. California’s bill would simply make that explicit to protect others from being hurt by the shame-based “therapy” in the first place.
Convincing LGBTQ people to suppress, abandon, stigmatize, and reject their own identities has long been a cornerstone of conservative Christian advocacy. Indeed, they have long contended that their views are not bigoted, but simply reflect their religious teachings. California was the first state to ban ex-gay therapy for minors, but many other states and cities have followed suit. These extremists are thus resorting to desperate tactics because as such legislation advances, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to disguise the hate they promulgate.