A ban on ‘conversion therapy’ is threat to freedom of religion

The legal shot across Stormont’s bows from the Christian Institute on a suggested ban on “conversion therapy” is most timely given the gravity of the issues involved.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:51 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 3:43 pm
The Australia rugby player Israel Folau, seen above being tackled in a game in 2018, was, Samuel Morrison writes, "effectively driven out of his sport because he dared to quote one of the texts I have cited in this article". (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

(Ashers Bakery charity threatens legal action over gay conversion therapy law, June 2, see link below)

No one would seek to defend all that has passed under the banner of “conversion therapy”.

The gruesome and the horrible should have no place in our society.

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The use of drugs, electric shock treatments and other practices of that nature are abhorrent.

However, recent discussion to the topic in Northern Ireland — with a motion passed at Stormont, similar motions coming before council chambers and a Bill in the making progress — should exercise defenders of free speech and religious freedom.


Because they fail to define what “conversion therapy” is.

When this issue was debated in the Assembly there was a telling reluctance to spell out what exactly the proponents of a ban actually wanted.

Indeed, an amendment which specifically protected freedom of religion was voted down.

Let’s consider a practical example.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul recounts how, as a result of the preaching of the Gospel, lives were changed.

He lists a number of sins which the Christians in Corinth left behind. Included in his list is homosexuality.

He then says:

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

My question to those who push for a ban is this — would what you are asking us to support criminalise the Apostle Paul?

Because Paul taught that the homosexual lifestyle could be left behind would people like to have seen him prosecuted?

I’ll go further.

When Jesus Christ said in Mark 10 that marriage is limited to one man and one woman and that God made us all male and female would you have sought His prosecution under this law?

What in the proposals being discussed at present would protect Christ’s freedom to say that on the streets of Northern Ireland?

What in these proposals protects the street preacher who quotes Christ?

Will that be a “hate crime”?

Let’s look at countries where legislation has been passed.

In Australia rugby player Israel Folau was effectively driven out of his sport because he dared to quote one of the texts I have cited above.

In Victoria Australia “a religious practice, including but not limited to prayer based practice” is banned under “conversion therapy” legislation.

We have moved from a situation where people have claimed we shouldn’t be seeking to make windows into people’s private lives to being in danger of making windows into the minister’s counselling room.

There has been an attempt by some to frame this as a debate where there are conflicting views within what is regarded as Christianity particularly on the broadcast media but in a sense that misses the main point at issue here.

This is a matter of freedom of speech and religion, values which traditionally have been identified with liberalism.

George Orwell was no religious fundamentalist but he wouldn’t have been on the side of those calling for a ban in the terms in which it has been floated in Northern Ireland.

As he pointed out, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

A society which cannot tolerate that liberty is headed in a direction which should make us all feel uncomfortable, regardless of our religious outlook.

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Alistair Bushe