Colorado law censors Christian counselors

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All Christians are called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), but for some Christians,

(Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom)

helping others to bear their burdens is also a professional vocation.

That’s the case for Kaley Chiles, a licensed professional counselor in Colorado. A committed Christian, Kaley sees her work as an outgrowth of her faith—a faith that many of her clients share.

These clients come to Kaley because they desire counseling that is informed by their common Christian faith. They want their lives to align with their convictions, and Kaley works to help them achieve that goal.

But in Colorado, a Counseling Censorship Law threatens Kaley’s ability to speak with some of her clients about issues of gender and sexuality. The law censors counselors like Kaley, violating their First Amendment right to speak freely. That’s why Kaley is standing up to challenge this law. Read on to learn more about her case.

Who is Kaley Chiles?

Kaley Chiles is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Colorado. She began her career working with clients who had experienced trauma, and she has since branched out into other areas including addictions, attachment, and personality disorders.

Kaley is a devout Christian, and her view of human nature is informed by her Christian beliefs. Kaley does not preach to her clients; she’s a counselor, not a pastor. But counseling doesn’t occur in a philosophical vacuum.

Kaley’s clients come to her with a variety of goals they have set for themselves. Some seek freedom from sexual behaviors such as pornography use. Others wish to become more comfortable with their bodies, and still others seek to reduce unwanted same-sex attraction. That’s where the Colorado law comes in.

Chiles v. Salazar

In 2019, the Colorado legislature passed a Counseling Censorship Law that outlines what counselors may and may not say to their clients. Specifically, the law bars Kaley and other counselors in Colorado from saying anything to clients under 18 that would encourage them to “change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attraction” toward members of the same sex.

Conversely, the law allows counselors to provide “[a]cceptance, support, and understanding” for clients who wish to “explore” their sexual orientation or gender identity, and it allows counselors to “assist” anyone who is “undergoing gender transition.” In other words, Colorado allows only the government’s view of sexual orientation and gender identity to be discussed by counselors.

Kaley’s counseling always aligns with her clients’ choices. It is the clients who determine their own goals; Kaley seeks simply to help them achieve those goals. So Colorado’s law doesn’t just censor Kaley; it also harms her clients who are seeking to live more fulfilling lives.

Kaley has begun censoring herself in conversations with clients for fear of violating the law. Colorado does not define the difference between encouraging a client to “change” their sexual orientation and gender identity and encouraging them to “explore” their options.

While that distinction is murky in the law, the potential consequences are crystal clear: anyone who is deemed to have violated the law, even if they did so unintentionally, faces fines of up to $5,000 for each violation, as well as potential suspension and the loss of their license to practice counseling.

In September 2022, ADF Allied Attorney Barry Arrington filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kaley and asked a federal district court to halt Colorado’s unconstitutional law. The district court ruled against Kaley, but Arrington appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and ADF attorneys have now taken lead in the case.

What’s at stake?

Counselors like Kaley are in the business of helping people overcome adversity and enjoy a better quality of life. Colorado’s Counseling Censorship Law restricts Kaley’s ability to do that.

Put bluntly, Colorado is trying to silence those who disagree with its views. And as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in NIFLA v. Becerra, “[T]he people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.”

Case timeline

  • September 2022: ADF allied attorney Barry Arrington filed a lawsuit on Kaley Chiles’ behalf and asked a federal district court to halt Colorado’s law.
  • December 2022: The district court failed to halt the law.
  • January 2023: Arrington and ADF attorneys appealed the district court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

The bottom line

The government shouldn’t censor a counselor’s speech. Colorado’s Counseling Censorship Law violates freedom of speech and harms counselors as well as clients. — Alliance Defending Freedom

To learn more about Alliance Defending Freedom, go here