Christians ready to take legal action if conversion therapy bill tramples on religious freedom

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The Christian Institute has repeated its call to the government to ensure that a ban on so-called conversion therapy does not interfere with everyday religious practice.

The organisation reiterated its readiness to take legal action against the Westminster government after The Times reported on Wednesday that the government is pressing ahead with a draft bill to ban LGBT 'conversion practices', contradicting reports earlier in the year that it was planning to quietly drop the proposals.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to include a draft bill in the King's Speech after coming under pressure from Tory MPs, the newspaper reported.

The Christian Institute has said it will take legal action if the law prevents ordinary church activities like preaching, prayer and pastoral counselling.

The Christian Institute's Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Simon Calvert, questioned why a ban was necessary.

"By moving ahead with this Bill at all, the Government is wading into very dangerous territory. Gay and trans people are already protected, quite rightly, from verbal and physical abuse by existing law. Since those things are outlawed, what is it that this Bill will seek to criminalise?" he said. 

He urged the government not to heed the call of some campaigners, like Jayne Ozanne, who want to include prayer in the ban.

"The leading activists on this issue – those the government is trying to placate – are quite clear that they want it to target conversations and ideas they don't like," he said.

"They want a kind of LGBT blasphemy law. This is profoundly illiberal."

He added, "Jayne Ozanne says she wants 'gentle non-coercive prayer' to be criminalised as part of this Bill. But it is obvious to most people that gentle non-coercive prayer is not conversion therapy."

The Christian Institute has previously sought legal advice from human rights lawyer Jason Coppel KC on the proposals. In 2021, Coppel concluded that it "would be likely to violate" Christian freedom of expression. 

Some supporters are encouraging the government to copy the ban recently introduced to the Australian state of Victoria, which prohibits pastors from saying prayers that "ask for a person to not act on their attractions" or "talk about a person's brokenness or need to repent".

The Victorian law has also left parents fearful that they will be prosecuted if they do not affirm their child's preferred gender. Breaking the law carries a maximum fine of over £100,000 or up to 10 years in prison.

Mr Calvert urged Westminster parliamentarians to ensure that the proposed ban for England and Wales "does not even come close to imitating the terrible mistakes being made in Victoria".