Conversion therapy ban will have “chilling effect on free speech”, campaigners warn

24, April 2022

The free speech advocacy group, Free Speech Union, has warned the Westminster Government of the ‘inevitable’ chilling effect of a conversion therapy ban.

In their response to the Government’s consultation on banning conversion therapy, the group expresses concerns over criminalising the expression of beliefs.

They say:

“Our concern is that “conversion therapy”, as currently under discussion, is too vaguely defined to form the basis of a new law and such a law would inevitably have a chilling effect on free speech.”

“too vaguely defined”

Highlighting the need for a clear definition, the FSU explain that some of the proposals risk the rights of parents “who may have legitimate questions about their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity or personal self-expression”.

If a ban includes transgenderism, they also warn it could affect TV, radio and online debates over trans ideology:

“We do not believe it would be appropriate for the U.K. Government to take sides on this issue when it is still the subject of ongoing public debate."

“Narrowly dictating what a state-regulated broadcaster is allowed to say when discussing a controversial issue – or a social media user – is particularly pernicious when that issue is the subject of an ongoing and unresolved public debate, as transgenderism is.”

Charity bosses

The Free Speech Union is also concerned about proposals to disqualify charity trustees who are deemed to have carried out ‘conversion therapy’. While it would be fair to disqualify anyone who breaks the law, the group explains that the Charity Commission would feel compelled to investigate spurious claims.

“Even if these complaints are not upheld”, they say, “the process will be the punishment and in order to avoid these hugely time-consuming and stressful investigations charities will feel under pressure to conform to fashionable political opinion”.

This chilling effect is particularly worrying where groups’ charitable objects conflict with the views of those making complaints. Religious groups, they say, are therefore at particular risk.

Criminalising expressions of belief

While the Westminster Government has ruled 'transgender conversion therapy' out of a ban for now, other UK regions have pledged to push ahead on the issue. Others have warned that amendments to a Government Bill would see the return of 'trans' within the Bill.

The FSU raises concerns that such laws could "criminalise the expression of beliefs that do not comply with trans rights orthodoxy”; and notes:

“Others at risk of falling foul of the new law are persons, including clinicians, who are uncomfortable with the current fashion for encouraging trans children to embark on medical transition, as well as followers of the world’s major religious faiths.”

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