Conversion practices ban is an ‘anti-Christian campaign’

14 May 2024

Public Policy Researcher Carys Moseley critiques a tabled amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which seeks to ban ‘conversion practices’

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns has tabled an amendment to the government’s Criminal Justice Bill to ban conversion practices (Amendment NC42).

This is due to be debated at the Report Stage, which starts next Wednesday 15 May.

How the amendment defines conversion practices

The amendment appears to be a revised and slightly reworked version of Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s private members’ bill.

The amendment defines ‘conversion practices’ thus:

“For the purposes of this section, “conversion practices” means any conduct or activities carried out with the premeditated intent to change, replace, or negate an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity (or lack thereof).”

This definition is similar but not identical to the one given previously:

“conversion practice” means a course of conduct or activity, the predetermined purpose and intent of which is to change someone’s sexual orientation or to change a person to or from being transgender, including to suppress a sexual orientation or transgender identity so that the orientation or identity no longer exists in full or in part.”

Alicia Kearns has added ‘perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity (or lack thereof). This places greater weight on the supposed perception of the person deemed to enact a ‘conversion practice’. What this means is that the police would be given greater scope for investigating the thoughts of those reported to them for conversion practices.

The amendment restricts expression of religion and belief

The amendment addresses the expression of religious and non-religious beliefs:

“(6) No offence is committed—

(a) where a person expresses—

(i) a religious or other belief, provided that it is not directed to an individual as part of a conversion practice,

(ii) to another person their disapproval of, or acceptance of, that person’s sexual orientation or transgender identity or lack thereof”

Kearns’ amendment specifies that ‘any conduct or activity’ can include the intention of ‘conversion practices’. This means that the police, who would be tasked with assessing allegations of conversion practices, would have to investigate all kinds of activities, not only what happens in mental health or religious settings. They will be able to investigate consensual conversations of all kinds to assess whether they really are consensual.

In addition, ‘conversion practices’ is much broader than ‘conversion therapy’. As we have warned previously, it could include sex-based dress codes.

It could also encompass all kinds of prayer, including prayer to resist temptation, as well as advice to abstain from sexual thoughts and behaviours.

This means that the social scope of the bill is as broad as could possibly be, and the threat to expression of religious and non-religious belief is as well.

The amendment targets publishing

The bill doesn’t only target someone who works directly with someone to support them to shape their sexual desires or behaviours.

A person commits an offence if they “offer, provide, or take payment for materials to be used in the conducting of conversion practices.”

Since ‘conversion practices’ as defined in this amendment includes ‘negating’ someone’s orientation or identity, you could be prosecuted for publishing or selling a book, course or videos that (for example):

  • Help Christians experiencing same-sex desires to stay pure by abstaining from sex
  • Help Christians to pray for someone with gender confusion and distress

Since sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, advice given on how to stay sexually pure outside marriage could be seen as negating a person’s heterosexual identity by encouraging them not to act on it.

Advice as simple and benign as “ask God for help”, “read a psalm”, “take a cold shower”, “talk to a friend” or “get some exercise” could be criminalised if presented in the context of resisting sexual sin. For the purpose of this amendment, it is irrelevant if the help given is effective or ineffective, harmful or helpful – only the intent matters.

The amendment targets advertising

Alicia Kearns has targeted advertising conversion practices in a previous amendment to the Online Safety Bill, which was not adopted. We can therefore see her tactic is to continue to table amendments to government bills.

Are parents and children really protected from prosecution?

Kearns’ amendment echoes the clause in Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s bill which appears to protect parents from prosecution. This is how it is worded:

“(6) No offence is committed…

(b) by a person exercising parental responsibility for a child in England and Wales in accordance with the Children Act 1989.”

In reality, no lower age limit is given in the amendment for who could be a recipient of conversion practices. This means that parents could still be prosecuted if the police deem them to intend to carry out ‘conversion practices’ on children. In theory this could even include insisting that a child dresses in clothes appropriate for their sex to go to school.

Siblings, other close family members and friends would have no protection from prosecution.

Mental health practitioners are at risk

It is perhaps useful to know that the UK Council for Psychotherapy recently pulled out of the professional ban on conversion therapy, the MOU, because the ban also includes children. The new leader of the UKCP has supported the Cass Review. Dame Hilary Cass warns that legislation to ban conversion therapy is something therapists fear because they could be open to litigation for doing their work.

Nevertheless, Alicia Kearns’ amendment only purports to protect health practitioners who are already members of bodies accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (clause 6(c)(i)). This leaves therapists and counsellors who are not in such organisations at greater risk. As the terms ‘therapist’ and ‘counsellor’ are not restricted in UK law, anybody can use them. This means that pastors who use their counselling skills in church settings but who aren’t members of professional bodies could be at greater risk of prosecution.

An anti-Christian campaign

We can therefore see that this is an amendment that poses a particular risk to churches and Christian organisations. This should not by now be surprising. This amendment is part of a series of attempts to sneak in a law banning conversion practices in the last six months. In February Baroness Burt, a Liberal Democrat peer, led a debate on her private member’s bill on the topic. In March, the aforementioned private member’s bill tabled by Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Labour) was debated. Alicia Kearns has been working closely with Rusell-Moyle, as it was she who tabled the bill on his behalf in December 2023.

Each of these Parliamentarians has had their campaign endorsed by Humanists UK.

This amendment would criminalise the expression of Christian beliefs everywhere

This amendment, which appears to be shot through with safeguards, is in fact very broad in its potential scope. Those most at risk would be unregulated counsellors and therapists, in other words, pastors and church leaders, as well as parents. This amendment needs to be debated and voted down next Wednesday.

For more information you can visit the website Free To Talk which explains why a ban on conversion therapy or conversion practices is unnecessary and harmful.

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.