A broad ban on conversion therapy could criminalise Christian parents who encourage their children to follow the Bible in its teachings on gender and sexuality, a leading QC has said.
Prominent human rights lawyer Philip Havers QC has sent a formal legal opinion to Government ministers, warning them that the proposed ban could make everyday Christian actions illegal, including conversations both in church or at home.
Havers determined that encouraging a gender-confused child to accept their birth sex or preaching the Bible’s position on same-sex marriage could become criminal offences if a broad ban is instituted.
LGBT activists, led by CofE General Synod member Jayne Ozanne, have been pushing for a broad ban on so-called conversion therapy, which they say encompasses everything from physical and sexual abuse to prayer and pastoral concern.
Campaigners are pushing to ban any practice that seeks to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or chosen gender identity.
The legal opinion considers eleven likely scenarios and Mr Havers wrote that any of the definitions proferred by campaigners “have the potential to criminalise at least some (and in several cases all) of these scenarios unless specific exemptions are applied for faith-based activity, including within family settings”.
He also said a ban would likely have a “broader chilling effect” on society, “because Christians could become increasingly wary of sharing such views in general for fear of prosecution”.
The lawyer said that if the law was phrased loosely, parents, church leaders or therapists could be accused of ‘suppressing’ a child’s gender identity if they challenge their desire to seek out medical interventions to try and ‘change sex’.
Alternatively, if a gay person attended church and heard a sermon being preached on biblical sexual ethics, they could claim the pastor was breaking the law by attempting to suppress their sexuality.
Mr Havers said this would amount to “an unlawful interference” with several human rights laws protecting the freedom of religious belief and expression.
The legal opinion was commissioned by Ed Shaw, an evangelical Christian who describes himself as same-sex attracted and lives a celibate life in line with the Bible’s teaching.
He said a ban on conversion therapy could “close down freedom of speech, conscience and religion” for those who believe in the biblical positions on sexuality and gender.
As the minister of a Church of England congregation, Shaw said a ban could prevent him from preaching the CofE’s official doctrine on marriage, and may stop him giving pastoral support to a person who struggles with sexual temptation or is confused about their gender.
He said: “From the point of view of any Christian ministry, all this is going to do is create a climate of fear”.
Shaw said he was supportive of some efforts to stop coercive practices, but added that a broad ban that affects ordinary church life would not be welcome.
He said: “I want good, targeted legislation that stops coercive efforts to change sexuality. There is no need for me to become heterosexual to be a better Christian.
“But stopping people like me from getting the teaching and the pastoral care to help me live with my sexuality in the light of what I believe would be crazy.”