MP tables ‘conversion therapy’ amendment that lawyers warn will ban 'private prayers'

13, May 2024

Under a new amendment to a Government Bill, grandparents praying for their grandchildren and families praying at the dinner table could be criminalised, says a top lawyer.

By James Kennedy

Alicia Kearns MP has tabled a new ‘conversion therapy’ amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that senior lawyers warn will criminalise private prayer that does not affirm LGBT thinking.

It’s not only Christians who are concerned about the extraordinary over-reach of the amendment. Last weekend, the Gay Men’s Network and Labour Women’s Declaration both stated their opposition to its inclusion of prayer.

The addition is presumably intended to reassure those who are concerned about religious freedom. It does precisely the opposite.

Private prayer

The Criminal Justice Bill is to begin its next parliamentary stage on Wednesday 15 May. If Alicia Kearns’ amendment is selected, it will be debated and voted on by MPs within days.

Kearns has withdrawn and re-tabled her amendment five times; an extraordinary approach to law making. Clearly, she is struggling – and failing – to match activists’ demands with the reality of human rights law.

The latest version (New Clause 90) explicitly refers to “private religious prayer”, stating that it is allowed “provided that it is not directed to an individual as part of a conversion practice”.

But the very mention of private prayer, along with this totally circular wording, means that private prayer is captured and criminalised. This is despite the wording being put forward as if it defends religious belief.

If a Christian was to privately pray that someone would turn away from sexual sin, they would be committing an offence under NC90’s sweeping definition.

Conflict with human rights “could not be clearer”

The Gay Men’s Network says that the inclusion of private prayer is an “amateurish mistake”. Sarah Vine KC, for Labour Women’s Declaration, says it “has a foreseeable and, I presume, unintended effect of making explicit the criminalisation of private prayer”.

In a legal opinion for The Christian Institute, Jason Coppel KC explains that the reference to prayer "confirms that the intention of the Amendment is to criminalise private religious prayer in certain circumstances".

Sarah Vine KC explained further:

“The application of the new wording would result in criminal liability of, for example, grandparents who disclose to their grandchild that they pray privately every night for her/him to desist from cross-sex ideation, or from homosexuality.

“A family who pray over their meals to the same effect will, if the alleged victim is present, be committing a criminal offence. Family members, and members of a religious community will be required to keep their prayers secret from the alleged victim.

“The conflict with Articles 9 and 10 (freedom of belief and expression) could not be clearer.”

See also: MP repeatedly proposes flawed conversion therapy amendments

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