Policy Researcher Dr Carys Moseley comments on the new proposals in Scotland to ban ‘conversion practices’.
Proposals for ending ‘LGBT conversion practices’ in Scotland were published last Tuesday by an Expert Panel advising the Scottish government. The report assumes a radical misinterpretation of children’s rights and denies that its recommendations infringe religious freedom and freedom of expression. These policy proposals amount to the worst in the world so far. Overall they would criminalise prayer, consensual conversations, quoting certain Bible passages, and some preaching among other things. This amounts to a shocking infringement of fundamental freedoms.
Here, I will outline the most important recommendations. They span both criminal and civil law.
Extending domestic abuse law beyond the home
The report proposes that the law on coercive control, a crime under domestic abuse law, should be extended to cover ‘conversion practices’. It complains that domestic abuse legislation only covers control by ‘partners’ or ‘ex-partners’.
The problem is that the report overall implicitly targets ‘conversion practices’ in all kinds of settings – not only people’s homes – including ‘organisations’, i.e. churches, schools, hospitals, etc., and both the private (charitable and business) and public sectors. Thus, the law on coercive control would effectively be extended to all settings in Scotland. Such a move, making domestic abuse law the basis for legislation across the entire private and public sectors, is unprecedented anywhere in the world.
Threat to remove parental rights
The report wants the Scottish government to be able to remove parents’ rights to bring their children up if they are found guilty of ‘conversion practices’.
“In addition to the possibility of an increased sentence, the Group recommends that, where the perpetrator of any of the criminalised acts has parental or guardianship rights in relation to the victim, the legal consequences may include the modification or withdrawal of such rights.
“Where parents or guardians have engaged in conversion practices, the modification or even withdrawal of their parental or guardianship rights is envisaged as an option. This will not apply in all cases of conversion practices, and it is important that in these difficult situations the concerns of the victim are taken into account. Some cases of conversion practices performed by parents or guardians are, however, severe and/or persisting, and in those situations in the interests of the victim, it is unavoidable that this sanction is available.”
In the last few years, some parents in England have faced threats from social services to have their children removed for having ‘misgendered’ them. These Scottish proposals would codify such an approach in the criminal law.
Consent not a defence
The report denies that adults can consent to ‘conversion practices’, assuming anything deemed to fall under the definition is ‘harmful’ and a violation of human rights:
“We are clear that, as they constitute a human rights violation, it is not possible for individuals to genuinely consent to conversion practices being carried out against them…we believe that allowing for consent to conversion practices is a dangerous approach which will leave many people vulnerable to abuse. As a result, the legislation should be clear that it includes conversion practices with or without consent.”
This is a major problem because the 2021 proposals for England and Wales did grudgingly allow formal written consent for adults, something bitterly opposed by the Ozanne Foundation in its Cooper Report a year ago.
Challenging ‘someone’s sense of self’ to be criminalised
As consent is deemed to leave people ‘vulnerable to abuse’, the extremely wide definition of who is ‘vulnerable’ in the report is concerning. The report recommends higher sentencing for the following cases:
“the causation of serious bodily or mental harm,
the performance of conversion practices on a child,
the performance of conversion practices on a person in a situation of vulnerability, for instance, persons with mental disorders and persons who are in a situation of dependence (where the perpetrator was aware of the situation of vulnerability).”
The definition of vulnerability given is very wide and is a clear infringement of freedom of speech:
“Vulnerability can also arise in instances when someone’s sense of self is challenged by their support network, community or family/guardians or where coercion, manipulation and abuse have been employed in the conduct of conversion practices.”
A person’s sense of self may or may not be formed by the belief that they are ‘born gay’ or ‘born in the wrong body’, or that they were meant to grow up to be this way. This means that mere conversation whereby a family member or friend or church member tells someone they don’t believe they were ‘born that way’ could lead to a criminal conviction.
Targeting ‘conversion ideology’
The new term ‘conversion ideology’ is used by the report, hinting at widespread censorship.
“LGBT+ conversion ideology, both didactic and non-didactic, is insidious and harmful and takes root in societies. We feel that legislation will only succeed in ending conversion practices if it includes civil measures that can get to the root of this ideology. Open conversation about conversion ideology, especially as part of anti-conversion practices advocacy, is important.”
It is utterly disingenuous for the Expert Panel that produced this report to claim that ‘open conversation’ is important, when the very same report recommends criminalising talk that challenges ‘someone’s sense of self’.
The term ‘conversion ideology’ is clearly one to watch, as it can easily be applied more widely to other issues in the Christian life. The ultimate target is the call to be converted to Christianity.
Report acknowledges link between re-education and school LGBT indoctrination
Significantly, this is the first ever explicit mention in the UK of a link between a ‘conversion therapy/practices’ ban and LGBT indoctrination in schools.
“The Commission would also be responsible for outreach programmes, which would help to create an environment which is no longer informed by prejudiced views. Educative outreach would work with the LGBT+ sector to ensure that people are aware of conversion practices as part of wider work already carried out on LGBT+ visibility. While the Scottish Government has already committed to LGBT+ inclusive education there need to be additional measures ensuring awareness of conversion practices.”
‘LGBT+ inclusive education’ here refers to the Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood curriculum that is now in Scottish schools.
Targeted re-education for ‘providers of conversion practices’
The report recommends that civil measures provide ‘targeted education’ for ‘providers of conversion practices’. This clearly means re-educating pastors and indeed all professionals to accept and peddle LGBT ideology and Queer Theory.
Re-education is also targeted at the public very similarly to what the Government Equalities Office has previously claimed with the use of biased research, claiming that ‘conversion therapy’ is ineffective, unscientific, harmful, etc.
Criminalising pastors and church denominational leaders
The net is cast very widely in terms of who could be criminalised.
“We understand that conversion practices are not normally carried out by lone individuals but usually with the support of others, whether that be family or community members, faith organisations or other organisations providing services aimed at sexual orientation or gender identity conversion. As a result, the criminalisation of conversion practices should not only include the carrying out of the practices themselves, but should also include offering, promoting, advertising or referring a person for the purpose of conversion practices.”
Again, a ban on promoting and advertising is also found in the proposals for England and Wales. The ITV leaks clearly showed that the UK government still proposed to use non-legislative means to tackle advertising.
Threat to ban pastors from working in Scotland
Hints at government licensing of religious organisations can be found in the report, as it recommends that faith leaders or church members have their ‘licence as a faith leader’ removed. It also recommends withdrawing people’s ability to work in Scotland in the institution where they had been found to perpetrate ‘conversion practices’.
“The Group recommends that, where the perpetrator of any of the criminalised acts is a faith leader or a member of a religious institution, the legal consequences may include the withdrawal of the perpetrator’s professional licence as a faith leader or removal of ability to work within Scotland in said institution, or withdrawal of the institution’s charity status where the institution is not otherwise regulated.”
Threat to remove churches’ charitable status
The above quote also makes it clear that the report recommends withdrawing institutions’ charitable status, and that even ‘where the institution is not otherwise regulated’. This is clearly aimed at churches, which are not on the whole regulated by other bodies than the Charity Commission.
This echoes the long-term campaign by the National Secular Society to get Christian organisations removed from the charity register. What is less well-known is that the NSS has spent years supporting the campaign for a ban on ‘conversion therapy/practices’.
The worst proposals in the world so far
Whilst these recommendations come out of the existing international campaign to ban ‘conversion therapy/practices’, they also amount to the worst in the world so far. Nowhere else has it been proposed that domestic abuse law should be used and also extended beyond the home. Criminalising conversations based on ‘challenging someone’s sense of self’ is totalitarian, and would set a very bad precedent on free speech in general. The targeting of organisational leaders (not only religious leaders) is clearly apiece with threats to remove their charitable status, and would lead to orthodox Christianity going underground in Scotland. This is not surprising given that the Church of Scotland and the Metropolitan Community Church are the only denominations with membership on the Expert Panel.
The open admission that ‘education’ (really re-education) in LGBT ideology is linked to LGBT indoctrination in schools is highly significant. It ties with the strong attack on parental rights and the targeting of children. Left unopposed these recommendations will become law in Scotland and result in state-sanctioned persecution not only of pastors but of mental health professionals, teachers, social workers and parents. The time for comprehensive opposition to a ban on ‘conversion practices’ is now.