Scottish Bishops: ‘Conversion Therapy’ Ban Would Criminalize Christian Pastoral Care
Its definition of ‘conversion therapy’ is so vague, the bishops warned, that the proposed law would ‘create a chilling effect’ and could even criminalize ‘advice or opinion given in good faith.’
The Catholic bishops of Scotland have warned that a proposal to ban what critics characterize as gay or transgender “conversion therapy” would have “totalitarian” effects and in effect would ban mainstream religions such as Catholicism.
Legislators, the bishops said, are in the process of drafting a bill that would “outlaw pastoral care, prayer, parental guidance and advice relating to sexual orientation, expression of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” except for what state officials believe is “affirmative care.”
Its definition of “conversion therapy” is so vague, the bishops warned, that the proposed law would “create a chilling effect” and could even criminalize “advice or opinion given in good faith.”
“These proposals, if passed by the Scottish Parliament, would criminalize mainstream religious pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical or other professional intervention relating to sexual orientation, unless it was approved by the state as acceptable,” the bishops warned Jan. 16.
“Priests could be banned from working in Scotland, the Church could lose its charitable status, and classroom and pastoral teachers could lose their jobs,” they said. “There would be uncertainty about the future of Catholic schools and children could be taken away from their parents. As the first educators of their children, parents alone have the right to advise and guide their children in such matters.”
The bishops stressed the need to be “pastorally sensitive” to people who identify as homosexual and that they deserve “compassion and particular care and support in the challenges that come with all that life brings them.” The bishops also backed existing legislation protecting people from physical and verbal abuse.
The Scottish government, a coalition of the Scottish National Party and the Green Party, last year pledged to ban conversion therapy with legislation “that is as comprehensive as possible” if U.K. proposals do not go “far enough.”
It appointed a group of experts to make recommendations about possible legislation. The experts included the “LGBT” activist group Stonewall and Susan Brown, a minister with the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian body that has broken with historic Christian teaching on several matters of sexual morality and marriage.
The expert group’s proposal, titled “Ending Conversion Practices,” was published in October last year. It defined “conversion practices” as “any treatment, practice, or effort that aims to change, suppress, and/or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.” It argued for a broad legal definition to cover all practices. It insisted there should be no legal exceptions. It said a person cannot consent to such practices.
The proposal argued that “conversion therapy” infringes upon individual human rights, “in particular the victim’s freedom from discrimination and freedom from non-consensual medical treatment,” the Herald Scotland reported.
It recommended criminalizing those who practice these alleged activities as well as those who promote and advertise them. Health professionals and faith leaders involved in the practice should lose their licenses and involved charities should also face penalties, it said. Parents who promote such activities to their children could lose custody.
The proposal suggested that individuals “suppress their own identity” out of desires “to be accepted and to fit into societal norms where family, faith, and community are integral parts of life and self-identity.”
“[A]nyone who proposes this teaching to someone with same-sex attraction or gender-identity issues would face sanctions,” the bishops said. “This would apply even if the person with these issues wanted help to follow Church teaching, since this law would say they cannot consent to this teaching.”
The Scottish bishops cited Pope Francis’ Jan. 9 remarks to international diplomats at the Vatican:
“There is a risk of drifting into what more and more appears as an ideological totalitarianism that promotes intolerance towards those who dissent from certain positions claimed to represent ‘progress,’ but in fact would appear to lead to an overall regression of humanity, with the violation of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience,” the Pope said.
The expert committee’s proposal, according to the Scottish bishops, “seeks to extend the scope of such legislation in a way that is gravely concerning in regard to freedom of religion and expression.”
Another body critical of the proposed ban is the Christian Institute, a nondenominational Christian charity and advocacy group.
Simon Calvert, a deputy director at The Christian Institute, warned that the proposal, if legislated, would be “the most totalitarian conversion-therapy ban in the world on the people of Scotland.”
“LGBT people are rightly protected from physical and verbal abuse by existing law, just like anyone else. But these proposals go much, much further,” he said in a December 2022 statement.
King’s Counsel Aidan O’Neill, writing in a legal opinion for The Christian Institute, argued the expert group’s proposal “would have the undoubted effect of criminalizing much mainstream pastoral work of churches.” O’Neill said that any proposed legislation could be challenged on the grounds it is beyond the power of the Scottish Parliament.
Calvert said government leaders should follow O’Neill’s advice.
“They may not like what Christians have to say about sexuality, or what feminists have to say about gender identity, but they can’t just criminalize opinions they don’t like,” he said.
On Tuesday the U.K. government announced it intended to introduce a conversion-therapy ban to Parliament.