The Christian Institute

News Release

Christian group ‘alarmed’ by threat to prayer

A leading Christian group has said it is ‘alarmed’ by the latest threat to prayer from anti-conversion therapy campaigners.

The group, The Christian Institute, has written to the Prime Minister and the Equalities Minister in the wake of a call from former LGBT Government advisor Jayne Ozanne for “gentle non-coercive prayer” to be included in legislation banning LGBT conversion therapy.

The letter says,

“While the Institute does not oppose a ban that protects people from harmful pseudo-medical practices, the idea that ‘gentle non-coercive prayer’ should be included in a list of illegal actions is alarming. In any event, it would violate the human rights of believers.”

“This view is confirmed by a legal opinion from Jason Coppel QC, one of the UK’s leading human rights lawyers, which says a conversion therapy ban encompassing ordinary prayer ‘would be likely to violate Convention rights’.”

It continues:

“Those pushing for the ban to include ordinary prayer seem to attribute the worst possible motives to those of us who hold different theological beliefs from them. They are not willing to listen to mainstream Christian groups or to their concerns. Now they have gone a step further by stating that the legislation should cover not only practices they consider coercive but all forms of prayer, no matter how mild.”

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, commented:

“This latest remark from Jayne Ozanne is very revealing. It shows the focus here is not about protecting people from genuinely abusive behaviour. It’s about criminalising mainstream theology that campaigners on the fringes of the church don’t agree with.

“In Britain we worked out centuries ago that prosecuting people for praying ‘the wrong kind of prayer’ was oppressive, counter-productive and wrong. Apparently, there are some who want to drag us back to the dark days of prosecuting people for not having the same religion. Thankfully, most people think this is a terrible idea. The UK Government must make clear that it does too.”

The row comes after David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, a supporter of Ozanne’s call for a ban on conversion therapy, was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“Where activity has harmed someone, the person who has caused the harm should face prosecution.” That activity should include prayer aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation, he added. He said he was not referring to “gentle non-coercive prayer, but where there is a level of power imbalance and a level of force”.

But Jayne Ozanne, a former Government LGBT advisor who quit in March, just days before her role came to an end, hit back in the same article saying:

“I’m very grateful to Bishop David for his clear support for a ban, although I would strongly refute that ‘gentle non-coercive prayer’ should be allowed.”

She continued:

“All prayer that seeks to change or suppress someone’s innate sexuality or gender identity is deeply damaging and causes immeasurable harm, as it comes from a place – no matter how well meaning – that says who you are is unacceptable and wrong.”

Ms Ozanne went on to claim that conversion therapy happens in the Church of England and in “many other faith settings”.

Her comments are the clearest pronouncement yet on how activists want to criminalise prayer. Matthew Hyndman, co-founder of the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign, said recently:

“Those who resist legislation against conversion therapy often resist the idea of a prayer or a pastoral conversation being subject to the scrutiny of law. However, if these things take place in an overwhelmingly homophobic or transphobic context the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with.”

Referring to legislation in Australia which comes into force next year, and which explicitly outlaws prayer, Conservative MP Alicia Kearns told the BBC:

“The model that’s been passed in Victoria is a good one.”

Writing in PoliticsHome she said:

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is just as it sounds: attempts to use medical, psychological and social methods to ‘convert’ someone away from their innate sexual orientation. It can range from ‘therapy’ and prayer sessions, to aversive treatments like electroshocks or even ‘corrective’ rape”.

In their previous letter to the Government, The Christian Institute warned that it would judicially review their plans if it sought to criminalise the everyday work of churches.

Highlighting a legal opinion from Jason Coppel QC, it gave examples of how evangelism, church membership, baptism, communion and private prayer, could all fall foul of a broad conversion therapy law.

Mr Calvert continued:

“The Government would do well to remember that the Courts have consistently ruled that mainstream Christian beliefs about sexual ethics and gender are protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and worthy of respect in a democratic society. This requires the state to treat those beliefs with neutrality and impartiality. No matter what some activists might think, you can’t outlaw other people’s beliefs just because they offend you.”