Banning conversion therapy = banning torture?

23, May 2022

Activists pushing for a broad ban say ‘conversion therapy is torture’.

The Ban Conversion Therapy campaign was launched in July 2020 with an open letter to the Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss. It claimed:

“...conversion therapy is torture.

“Let’s end it now. …until you do, torture will continue to take place on British soil”.

The campaign group’s leader Jayne Ozanne gave oral evidence to that effect in Parliament. Those leading campaigns in Northern Ireland and Scotland, such as Matthew Hyndman and Blair Anderson, have said the same.

It goes without saying that any person guilty of torture should face the full force of the law. But these activists are saying that inviting someone to embrace the Christian sexual ethic, or praying with them to that effect, is torture.   

How can prayer possibly count as ‘torture’? And isn’t torture already illegal? What’s going on?

Many rely on an article posted by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) titled ‘conversion therapy is torture’. But does the IRCT have the same practices in mind as Ozanne, Hyndman and Anderson?

Is conversion therapy torture?

Behind the IRCT article is a statement by their ‘Independent Forensic Expert Group’ which sheds a little more light on the torture claim:

Many conversion therapy practices bear similarity to acts that are internationally acknowledged to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Those include beatings, rape, forced nudity, force-feeding, isolation and confinement, deprivation of food, forced medication, verbal abuse, humiliation, and electrocution.”

This is a world away from praying with a gay friend.

The same document confirms that conversion therapy could amount to torture “depending on the circumstances”.

Another IRCT report gives further detail. Seven ‘conversion therapy’ practices were considered in detail: aversive treatment, electroconvulsive therapy, medication, forced confinement, psychotherapy, corrective violence and physically abusive exorcisms.

This doesn’t sound at all like the “gentle non-coercive prayer”, pastoral counselling and Christian parenting that activists have said must be banned.

Christians would never support any activity that could be categorised as torture. But what activists have asked the Government to ban falls well outside that description. No significant international body has said such activities amount to torture, and outlawing them on this basis would clearly be deeply misguided.

Torture is already illegal

All Western governments have made binding international commitments to protect their citizens from torture. No one can seriously argue that the UK is failing to fulfil its obligation to prevent torture taking place on UK soil.

The same governments are also obliged to protect the rights of Christians to practise their faith. Criminalising prayer – under the grotesquely distorted reasoning that it is a form of torture – would breach the human rights of Christians, and do a grave disservice to real victims of torture.

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