‘Innocent Christians Will Be Criminalised’ by UK Conversion Therapy Ban, Say Church Leaders

By Owen Evans
Owen Evans
Owen Evans
Owen Evans is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in civil liberties and free speech.
January 27, 2023Updated: January 27, 2023

Church leaders have warned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that Christians are at risk of being “criminalised” by a proposed new ban on gay and trans conversion therapy.

In a letter to Sunak on Friday, Christians said the proposed legislation means that they are “at grave risk of being outlawed by the proposed legislation.”

The authors of the Greater Love Declaration have also written to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch calling on Westminster to drop the plans as they could “criminalise innocent parents, teachers, and church leaders.”

Signatories include “ministers and pastoral workers from across the different Christian denominations as a statement of classic, orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity.”

They added that they will commit “to continuing Christian sexual ethics, even if it becomes illegal to do so.”

Epoch Times Photo
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch in an undated file photo. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

Draft Legislation

Earlier in January, the government set out to publish draft legislation on how it will ban conversion therapy for gay and transgender people.

At the time, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said that the “Bill will protect everyone, including those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender.”

“We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practices and remain committed to protecting people from these practices and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse,” said Donelan.

She said that it is “right that this issue is tackled through a dedicated and tailored legislative approach.”

“This is a complex area, and pre-legislative scrutiny exists to help ensure that any Bill introduced to parliament does not cause unintended consequences,” she added.

Donelan added that the “legislation must not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress, through inadvertently criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children.”

‘Pushing a Narrative’

In a statement, Greater Love Declaration co-author Rev. Matthew Roberts said that they “have every sympathy for those who have suffered genuine abuse.”

“Christians firmly reject any attempt to coerce or abuse, as it defies Christian teaching at the most basic level. We are grateful that this is already illegal,” he said.

Roberts said that it has “become increasingly clear that further legislation on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is not only unnecessary, since abusive ‘therapies’ have long been illegal, but it is also likely to criminalise innocent parents, teachers, and church leaders.”

He added that he believes that many of those demanding this legislation “are pushing a narrative that traditional orthodox Christian beliefs are harmful” and they have “made clear they are unwilling to accept a new law which does not criminalise ordinary believers and Christian leaders.”

Over 3,400 have signed the declaration, with many in recognised ministry positions, and “have committed to continuing to teach Christian sexual ethics, even if it becomes illegal to do so.”

“The government has said that it wants to protect religious freedom. That is a very welcome aim. But we remain unconvinced that the government can avoid unintended consequences in the passage of this Bill,” added Roberts.

Epoch Times Photo
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson arriving at Gatwick Airport, in London, on Oct. 22, 2022. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)

New Criminal Offence

Late last March, Boris Johnson dropped plans for legislation, with a government spokesman saying it would look at how existing laws could be applied more effectively and explore other measures.

Some of the proposed legislation then included the introduction of a new criminal offence alongside sentence uplifts for existing ones.

This included a new potential offence that would target talking conversion therapy for under-18s and the vulnerable, as well making sure that violent acts would be considered by judges as a potential aggravating factor upon sentencing.

Other measures included Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, support for victims, restricting its promotion, removing profit streams, and disqualifying people from holding a senior role in a charity.

A government spokeswoman told The Epoch Times by email that “it will be publishing a draft bill to ban conversion practices, protecting everyone.”

“The Bill will go through pre-legislative scrutiny in this parliamentary session. We hope to send it to a Joint Committee for scrutiny and will work with the Liaison Committee accordingly,” she said.

“There are clearly issues that are not fully resolved. We are determined that legislation will not cause harm to children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress by inadvertently impacting on legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children.”

“Pre-legislative scrutiny exists to prevent this, and other unintended consequences, by utilising stakeholder expertise and input from parliamentarians,” she added.