The UK Government’s proposed conversion therapy ban is “a serious threat to religious freedom”, a sociologist and “devout atheist” has warned.
Dr Stuart Waiton, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at Abertay University, said the ban could criminalise prayer, preaching and pastoral advice.
He said: “I totally disagree with Christian ideas about homosexuality. But I also recognise that in a free and liberal society people must be free to believe and to preach about whatever they like.”
The academic criticised the term conversion therapy for conjuring up “images of someone being tortured by being strapped to a chair with electrodes stuck on their head”, noting that “this is not what the bill is about, as this is clearly already illegal”.
He cited LGBT activist Jayne Ozanne, who has claimed “there is no such thing as a simple, loving prayer” on sexual ethics. He said, “are we saying that non-coercive religious practices or even beliefs should be made criminal? This could include the beliefs of parents who oppose homosexuality”.
If the UK bill is passed, there is a serious danger that this freedom will be lost.
Dr Waiton called the ban “a new type of coercion by the state, so that even voluntary discussions between adults is turned into a discussion about ‘manipulation’ and we end up criminalising certain outlooks that we disagree with”.
He said: “Either we live in a free society where people can express their beliefs freely or we do not. If the UK bill is passed, there is a serious danger that this freedom will be lost.”
Last week, more than 80 campaigners and politicians called on Westminster not to rush through its proposed conversion therapy ban.
The Government recently signalled it intended to scrap its proposed ban, but U-turned only a few hours later following backlash from LGBT activists.
It agreed to continue with a ‘legislative approach’, but said this would not apply to those experiencing gender confusion.
In a letter to The Sunday Times, 83 signatories said: “Hasty attempts to decouple gender identity from the bill will inevitably provoke hurriedly drafted amendments to put it straight back”, and that this should be resisted.