The Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reiterate its opposition to a new law on ‘conversion therapy’.
Despite speculation that the Government appeared ready to drop the plans, it is now expected that a draft conversion therapy Bill will be introduced soon.
ACT has now said that a law on conversion therapy “may inadvertently harm children and potentially criminalise teachers”, and called for “an urgent reconsideration of whether there is a need for new legislation”.
In her letter, Executive Director of ACT Lizzie Harewood reminded the Prime Minister of the concerns she shared with the Government in January last year.
She wrote that a new law risked harming “children who need to discuss gender and sexuality issues with school professionals” – in particular those “feeling under pressure to identify as transgender when actually they have other underlying mental health needs”.
Mrs Harewood explained that the fear of being accused of ‘conversion therapy’ “could deter teachers and professionals from providing necessary support”.
She added that as “voluntary pastoral conversations of a religious nature” between a student and a teacher or school chaplain could be criminalised, a ban could also infringe on children’s human rights.
Mrs Harewood also highlighted her concern for children with autism or special educational needs and disabilities. Those who do not identify as their biological sex are three to six times more likely to be autistic than the general population.
Our members have no desire to become criminals
She said these children “might lose crucial pastoral and safeguarding advice” if a broad law creates “an affirmation-only approach”. This could also result in children “being wrongly influenced into making radical (and sometimes irreversible) decisions, without proper informed consent”.
She added: “The legislation may undermine the ethos of many Christian schools. Schools with a biblical understanding of identity and sexuality would be at risk of being reported to the authorities for their pastoral work by activists who disagree with their religious beliefs.”
The ACT Executive Director also said: “It shouldn’t be a criminal offence for educational professionals to express their religious beliefs gently and graciously to pupils when prompted, particularly on traditional Christian views about gender and sexuality.
“If the UK ban is anything like those in other jurisdictions, it might make it unlawful for teachers to take part in these discussions.”
Mrs Harewood condemned abusive and coercive methods, but argued they are already punishable by law, and that the proposed ban “seems driven by lobby groups seeking to enforce their particular social and political perspectives, discriminating against families, children and teachers with differing views”.
‘No new law’
She concluded: “Our members have no desire to become criminals, and as a Christian organisation, we place a high value on being law-abiding citizens.
“It is extraordinary that we find ourselves in a position where this could be jeopardised by the Government giving in to activists who are openly hostile to us because of our beliefs.
“We would be grateful if you would please assure us that our concerns are being heeded and that there will be no new law on conversion therapy.
“However, if the Government is determined to legislate, then we would argue strongly that there must be a much clearer, balanced and more equitable definition of the term ‘conversion therapy’ which does not result in traditional Biblical beliefs being outlawed and Christian teachers placed unfairly and unjustly in the firing line for holding to their deeply held religious beliefs.”