Activists demand repressive prayer ban as UK Govt says prayer and religious teaching “will not constitute conversion therapy”

29, October 2021

A Government consultation paper on banning conversion therapy, released in the last hour, repeatedly pledges to protect religious freedom, frustrating activists who are lobbying for a repressive anti-religious ban. Let Us Pray welcomed the pledge, but warned that the proposals are confusing and lack detail.

The consultation document states:

The policy approach set out below will not impact everyday religious practice. An adult who wants to be supported to be celibate will be free to do so; parents will remain able to raise their children with the values of their faith, and simply expressing the teachings of a religion will not constitute conversion therapy. The Government will continue to work with faith communities to develop an approach that is effective in protecting people from harm, whilst also respecting the right to freedom of religion and belief.

Paragraph 25

It is the duty of the Government to keep its citizens safe, whilst also protecting the vital values that underpin our democratic society, such as freedom of speech, freedom of belief and privacy

Paragraph 3

To be clear: talking conversion therapy could not be reasonably understood to include communication such as casual conversations, exchanges of views, private prayer or pure speech acts

Paragraph 34

Groups like the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign have made repeated calls to ban expressions of Christian belief they disagree with:

'Spiritual guidance’ is really just religious speak for conversion therapy.

- Matthew Hyndman, co-founder of the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign

[Some politicians] say that churches offering pastoral care or sitting down and talking and preaching to people about their lifestyle doesn’t constitute conversion therapy. But I’m sorry, it does.

- Pete Byrne, SDLP councillor

I would strongly refute that ‘gentle non-coercive prayer’ should be allowed.

- Jayne Ozanne, spokesperson for the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign

Those who resist legislation against conversion therapy often resist the idea of a prayer or a pastoral conversation being subject to the scrutiny of law. However, if these things take place in an overwhelmingly homophobic or transphobic context the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with.

- Matthew Hyndman, co-founder of the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign

This is not a matter of freedom of speech.

- The Ozanne Foundation

I knew I would only ever be truly welcome [in a church] if I accepted this insidious talk of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘redemption’, which I would not be alone in hearing as a dog-whistle for conversion therapy.

- Freddy McConnell, journalist

Simon Calvert, a spokesman for the Let Us Pray campaign, said:

“Activists will be furious that the Government has so far rejected their demands to outlaw traditional, mainstream Christian beliefs about sex and sexuality. Churches that teach the biblical sexual ethic also teach that we must love our neighbour. We represent no threat to LGBT people and we do not deserve to be criminalised.

“By setting out its intention to protect basic religious freedoms, the Government is simply recognising that we have a human right to hold, express and live out our beliefs. Lawyers have written to the Government reminding them of their obligation to protect freedom of religion.

“LGBT people who come to a Bible-believing church get the same warm welcome as anyone else. And most of them are not surprised to find that the church believes things that they don’t. That’s what freedom of religion means.

“But some who oppose the church’s teaching, having failed to win the argument by persuasion, want the criminal law to settle their theological disputes. The Government must remain firm in its resolve not to give them what they seek.

“Whilst we are encouraged by the Government’s stated intentions, we remain concerned as to whether the particular policy approach it has chosen will fulfil all of those intentions. There is a distinct lack of detail in the consultation paper. Some of it is confused and contradictory on the key issue of what is and is not going to be outlawed. We will continue to engage constructively with the Government as its plans develop, and will be urging other Christians to do the same.”

Latest news