Boris Johnson has been accused of creating a loophole for religious groups in the proposed conversion therapy ban. In a letter to the Evangelical Alliance, a group representing over 3500 churches in Britain, the Prime Minister said: “I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity.”
Johnson, who just last month reaffirmed his pledge to outlaw conversion therapy, wrote that any such ban would “continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity”.
“I take freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously,” Johnson wrote in the letter, which is dated March 27, but became public this week.
These words have faced considerable backlash from politicians and LGBTQ+ activists who fear it could mean a religious exemption for any upcoming ban on conversion therapy.
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall UK spoke out against such immunity, reported The Independent, saying, “we know that half of the conversion therapy practices that take place in the UK are faith-based. So any ban that has loopholes for any type of practice — including religious practices — will leave vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people at risk of further harm.”
The vast majority of this so-called ‘therapy’ occurs in religious settings.
Any exemptions or loopholes on such grounds would render law meaningless and be completely unacceptable.
— NXF (@nxfie) April 14, 2021
Lords LGBT spokesperson Liz Barker called the letter “shameful” in comments to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding “only people of faith who seek to abuse LGBT people have anything to fear from a complete ban”.
Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the government’s LGBTQ+ advisory group has also been vocal in her opposition to the letter. “As a Christian, I take the freedom of religion very seriously — up until the point that it causes harm,” she told PinkNews.
“Prayer that focuses on ensuring someone confirms to a ‘norm’ causes untold damage, is degrading and leads many to contemplate taking their lives. It must be banned, and all the perpetrators must feel the full force of the law.”
Interesting that they've said they've "engaged with a variety of stakeholders" given that they only met with survivors for the first time a couple of weeks ago…
— Jayne Ozanne (@JayneOzanne) April 13, 2021
The Prime Minister’s letter was a response to a letter sent to him in March by the Evangelical Alliance, which argued against an extensive ban on conversion therapy. The groups expressed concerns that using a far-reaching definition of conversion therapy could stop LGBTQ+ from “seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives”.
“For evangelical Christians, the teaching of the Bible is clear that sexual activity is restricted to monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. For Christians who hold to this biblical teaching, it is essential that those who experience same-sex attraction are free to pursue and receive support to help them live in accordance with their beliefs.”
Jayne Ozanne condemned the letter at the time saying, “There are many evangelicals who take a different view to that set out by the Evangelical Alliance regarding the need to embrace and celebrate LGBTQIA people rather than condemn to a life of misery and pain.”
This controversy comes just weeks after Ozanne and two other members of the governments LGBTQ+ advisory panel stepped down due to the delay in banning conversion practices. March 30 marked 1,000 days since the British government first committed to banning conversion therapy, however, a definitive timeline for the legislation has yet to be announced.
The government advisory panel was disbanded at the end of March and according to the Minister for Women and Equality Liz Trust, will be replaced “in due course”. The advisory panel was always due to finish its term at this time, however, some panel members said they would have continued to carry out their duties and Ozanne commented that the move did “nothing to rebuild trust.”
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