Looking back at 2023

It has been another busy year for The Christian Institute. Many people in positions of influence in our society, whether in government, education, medicine, or elsewhere, spend a great deal of time promoting ideas or pushing policies which run counter to Christian truth.

And so this year, as every year, we have sought to be a Christian influence in a secular world wherever we could – and to help you be one too.

We round-up of some of the issues which hit the headlines in 2023.

‘Conversion Therapy’

At the turn of the year, the Westminster Government announced proposals for a new law on conversion therapy in England and Wales. It said a draft Bill would be published in full later in the year. It did not give any details of what the new law would include, but amid pushes from activists to ensure any legislation banned prayer, preaching and pastoral conversations alongside actual abuse and coercion, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch pledged to ensure it would not criminalise everyday religious practice.

In the summer, the Institute wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to avoid legislation that mirrors draconian rules in Victoria, Australia that UK activists hold up as their “gold-standard”.  New guidance there states that Christians can only pray in a way that affirms everyone is “perfect as they are”, and brands prayers speaking “about a person’s brokenness or need to repent” as ‘harmful’ and ‘likely to be illegal’.

The publication of a major poll commissioned by The Christian Institute followed just a few weeks later, revealing that banning conversion therapy was a priority for just 4 per cent of UK voters ahead of the anticipated 2024 general election.

Support for a ban was almost as low in the Republic of Ireland, with just 6 per cent regarding it as a priority. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that an official study published earlier in the year had revealed there is little or no evidence that conversion therapy is taking place in the Republic of Ireland. Despite this, Equalities and Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman heralded the publication of the report as “an important step towards legislating for a ban on conversion practices”. A Bill is expected in January.

At the Labour Party Conference in October, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds announced the party was committed to imposing a comprehensive law on so-called ‘conversion therapy’. She said a Labour law would have ‘no loopholes’ and would be ‘trans-inclusive’. She announced the party would also look to amend the law to make it easier to change legal sex, if it won the next General Election.

And the year ended as it began, with Parliamentarians considering proposals for a new law on conversion therapy. Separate Private Members’ Bills were launched in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In response to the former, the CI commissioned a fresh legal opinion from top human rights lawyer Jason Coppel, who warned the wide-ranging Bill posed a threat to fundamental freedoms. 

In Holyrood, the Scottish Government announced a consultation on banning conversion therapy would be brought forward in January. The consultation has been informed by reports and recommendations made by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee and an ‘Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices’ appointed by the Scottish Government.

Both groups called on the Government to model its legislation on the conversion therapy law currently in force in Victoria, Australia – a recommendation human rights expert Aidan O’Neill KC says “would have the undoubted effect of criminalising much mainstream pastoral work of churches”.

Legal and Education Casework

The Christian Institute helps hundreds of people every year, fighting cases of national importance for gospel freedom and defending Christians discriminated against because of their faith. But court cases are just the tip of the iceberg and we never publicise most of what we do.

In July, we reported that with our help a Christian parent governor was formally vindicated by the High Court after she had been axed for challenging an inappropriate sex ed policy at her kids’ primary school.

The Gateshead school for which she volunteered accused her of opposing the Governing Body’s collective decision to approve the trans-affirming policy and removed her. But the court reinstated her after the Governing Body and Local Authority both admitted her dismissal had been unlawful.

‘Susan’ (not her real name) was just one of the more than 200 Christian parents, teachers and school governors our Education Department helped with tailored, practical advice on dealing with issues including the Equality Act, sex education, Religious Education and LGBT ideology.

Relationships and Sex Education

March saw the Prime Minister commit to bringing forward a review of statutory guidance on Relationships and Sex Education. The pledge came after he was presented with a request signed by 50 MPs, and a 130-page report documenting “unsuitably sexually explicit” teaching resources.

In an interview with the Daily Mail two months later, Rishi Sunak reiterated the importance of ensuring children are only exposed to age-appropriate sex education content. He said: “I’m a parent, and I think most parents would care about that. They’d want to know what their kids were being taught, what materials they were being exposed to.”

Towards the end of the year, scores of Conservative MPs gave their support to a backbench Bill to ensure parents have a legal right to view sex education materials.

Miriam Cates’ Relationships and Sex Education (Transparency) Bill would require schools to share copies of text and images used in RSE lessons with parents and ban them from using unpublished third-party teaching resources.

While these positive moves took place in England, the Westminster Government announced in June that compulsory Relationships and Sexuality Education classes would be introduced in Northern Ireland, forcing schools to teach children about abortion. The Northern Ireland Office said the Regulations “will result in educating adolescents on issues such as … the legal right to an abortion in Northern Ireland, and how relevant services may be accessed”.

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour by 373 to 28, but almost all the NI members opposed. The Northern Irish representatives complained the move trampled over the devolution settlement, and had also been rushed through without proper consultation.

Gender Ideology

In early January, the Westminster Government also moved to block Holyrood’s gender self-ID Bill. Scotland Secretary Alister Jack exercised his powers under the Scotland Act to veto the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would have allowed 16-year-olds to change their legal sex by self-declaration in just six months and without a medical diagnosis.

Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as First Minister in February – a move that many linked to the fierce public opposition to the Bill – and was replaced by Humza Yousaf. In one of his first actions as leader, he announced his intention to push through the blocked ‘sex-swap’ legislation.

But his attempt proved unsuccessful, as in December the Outer House of Scotland’s Court of Session ruled against it. Judge Lady Haldane decided that Alister Jack ‘reasonably and lawfully’ blocked the Bill in order to protect the integrity of UK-wide equalities legislation.

NHS England announced in June its intention to end the routine prescription of puberty blocking drugs for gender-confused children. New guidance said clinical policies “should be mindful” that confusion about gender “may be a transient phase” and that interventions should be primarily “psychological” support.

In the autumn, the Prime Minister emphasised that the reality of biological sex should be upheld in all areas of public life, as he declared “a man is a man and a woman is a woman”. He told the Conservative Party Conference: “Patients should know when hospitals are talking about men or women”.

And following years of delay, in December the Department for Education finally released its draft guidance for schools on how to navigate transgender issues. For years we have been briefing MPs, officials and other campaigners using evidence from our education case work, so we welcomed how the draft guidance clarifies that schools are not required to allow children to socially transition, improves child safeguarding, involves parents and offers protections against compelled speech for pupils and teachers alike.

Online Safety Act

The Online Safety Bill became law in October. It requires social media and pornography websites to implement age verification that is “highly effective at correctly determining whether or not a particular user is a child”. Similar checks were approved under the Digital Economy Act 2017, but plans to implement them were abandoned in 2019.

Although Ofcom will gradually implement the Online Safety Act’s measures, it immediately began work on tackling illegal content, and launched a consultation process on 9 November 2023.

Prior to amendments, the Bill included controversial wording relating to the restriction of ‘legal but harmful’ content for adults. This led to fears that social media companies – which have a track record of restricting Christian and socially conservative content – would inevitably go far beyond what the law sets out and censor traditional views on marriage, sexuality and gender.

But following a campaign by The Christian Institute and others, the Government dropped the clause last year.


At the end of October, politicians on the Isle of Man backed plans to allow doctors to prescribe or administer lethal drugs at the request of patients. Members of Tynwald’s lower branch – the House of Keys – passed MHK Alex Allinson’s Assisted Dying Bill at second reading by 17 votes to seven.

The Bill would enable residents over the age of 18 who have mental capacity and are not expected to live beyond six months to “be lawfully provided with assistance to end their life”.


In November, The Christian Institute warned that proposed changes to legislation on terrorism and extremism could threaten religious freedom.

The Department for Communities was said to be working on a new definition of the term extremism, which could encompass groups whose behaviour helps “create a climate conducive to terrorism, hate crime and other violence”. 


27 April marked 55 years since the Abortion Act came into effect in Great Britain. In that time, over ten million abortions have been carried out, and currently around one in five pregnancies ends in abortion in the UK. Sadly, further attempts to make it easier to get an abortion took place this year.

In February, pro-life campaigners arrested for silently praying near an abortion centre in Birmingham were vindicated. A judge dismissed cases against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Roman Catholic priest Sean Gough, after the Crown Prosecution Service failed to provide any evidence and dropped the charges. Vaughan-Spruce was arrested again shortly after, but in September the investigation by West Midlands Police was dropped.

Cases such as these are likely to become more common, as in March MPs voted to roll out abortion censorship zones across England and Wales. Zones banning peaceful protest and prayer near abortion clinics are already in place in Northern Ireland, and are also being considered by Holyrood and in Ireland.

At the end of November, pro-abortion MPs made an attempt to hijack the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. Although Labour MPs Dame Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy claim their amendments would not allow abortion up to birth, it would mean that no woman could be prosecuted for taking pills to abort her baby at home, even after the current ten-week limit. 

Hate Crime

In May, members of the Irish Parliament debated the Government’s proposed hate crime Bill. Paul Murphy TD warned that people are at risk of arrest for supposedly ‘hateful thoughts’ under the legislation and said it was in danger of criminalising someone in possession of material deemed ‘hateful’. Amendments he proposed to defend the right to freedom of expression were voted down.

Late on in the year, an appeal court in Finland dismissed all charges of alleged “hate speech” against Christian MP Dr Päivi Räsänen, after she shared the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality in 2019. In a unanimous decision, judges in Helsinki found “no reason” to overturn an earlier ruling which had upheld the Christian’s right to free speech. 

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Sexual Ethics

In February, the Church of England voted to ‘welcome’ plans to allow churches to bless people in same-sex partnerships. The General Synod supported recommendations saying ‘prayers for God’s blessing’ may be offered to couples who have been through a same-sex civil ceremony. However, same-sex weddings were not approved.

In response, a global group of Anglican bishops announced it could no longer recognise the Church of England’s leadership. The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, which claims to represent 75 per cent of Anglicans worldwide, said the CofE had chosen to break fellowship with those who remain faithful to biblical sexual ethics.

In November, the plans became concrete as the CofE approved trials of “special standalone services” for blessing those in same-sex partnerships. Evangelicals said they were grieved and saddened by the General Synod’s departure from the biblical understanding of sex and marriage.

Genetically Modified Babies

Genetically modified babies were born in the UK for the first time in May. Scientists at the Newcastle Fertility Centre created the babies by employing a technique known as ‘three-person IVF’, which involves a chromosome mother, an egg mother and a sperm father.


Drug-related deaths in Scotland topped 1,000 for the fifth year in a row. 1,051 people died of drug misuse in 2022, at a rate of almost 20 deaths per 100,000 people – that’s 2.7 times higher than the 2021 UK average and the worst in Europe.

Christian Influence

2023 saw some Christian politicians display great courage in standing up for their convictions. Kate Forbes MSP came under attack from secularists when she ran in the SNP leadership contest. Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, holds to the biblical teaching on sex and marriage, which some claimed made her unfit for high office.

While she came second in the race, she later encouraged people of faith not to allow fear to push them out of politics. The former Finance Minister said that, despite the repeated attacks she experienced during the leadership contest, she refused to make her biblical stance on sexual ethics “more palatable or politically correct”.

Christian MP Nick Fletcher, who is similarly vocal about his beliefs, used a debate in Westminster Hall just prior to Easter to share the Gospel with his fellow Parliamentarians

In his speech on the importance of Christianity in society, Mr Fletcher also explained how social reformers of the past such as William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Hannah More were all motived by their faith in Christ.

And during a Westminster Hall debate on Christmas, Christianity and Communities, the MP urged his colleagues to accept “the greatest gift we can ever be given” by repenting and asking Jesus into their lives.

In Memoriam

Operation Mobilisation founder George Verwer went to be with the Lord in April, aged 84. Born in New Jersey in 1938, Verwer came to faith in Christ aged 16. Just two years later, he began the work of OM on a mission trip to Mexico. Today, the organisation has over 3,000 workers in nearly 150 countries across the world.

In September, Christian philanthropist and former CEO of Hoare’s Bank Jeremy Marshall died aged 60, after a ten year battle with cancer. His book, Beyond the Big C, led to numerous evangelistic opportunities, and his passion for sharing the Gospel one-to-one, led him to become Chairman of Christianity Explored.

And in October, Tom Ellis, a respected lawyer and long-time friend of the Institute, also joined his Saviour, aged 68. Tom worked with us on many of our most significant religious liberty cases – from representing street preachers and B&B owners, to taking on Google. The Institute’s Solicitor-Advocate Sam Webster paid tribute, saying: “Tom was humble and generous, he always put the cause of Christ first in his work.”

The Year Ahead

We are grateful for the many thousands of Christians around the UK, and indeed abroad, who support us through prayer and action. Thank you for standing with us during this challenging year. We give thanks to God and trust him to provide for us, and for you, in 2024.

From everyone at The Christian Institute, we hope you have a blessed New Year.

As well as the campaign work and legal cases, we strive to keep you up to date with various issues affecting Christians in the UK. This happens directly through hundreds of supporter meetings but also through our website and social media channels.

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