The Scottish government’s proposed new law suggests that teaching the importance of marriage is akin to conversion therapy. It breaches multiple human rights and is simply not necessary, says Simon Calvert
A top lawyer has warned the Scottish government that it will once again be on a collision course with the courts if it pursues current proposals to ban conversion therapy.
Aidan O’Neill KC’s critique comes just weeks after the Scottish government’s plans for indyref2 were thrown out by supreme court judges for being outside the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament.
In a new 68-page legal opinion for The Christian Institute, Mr O’Neill says recommendations made by the Scottish government’s own expert advisory group on banning conversion therapy are “fundamentally illiberal” and, if adopted, would criminalise innocent parents and preachers.
If the Scottish government goes ahead, it will be the most totalitarian conversion therapy ban in the world
This is because the advisory group’s recommendations go much further than calling for action against abusive and coercive practices – which are already illegal. In fact, it goes as far as to say that teaching the “importance of marriage” could be considered ‘conversion therapy’ and be made potentially illegal under the new law.
Whether or not you support Scottish independence, the supreme court ruling demonstrates that there are constraints on what Holyrood can legislate for. And a ban on prayer and pastoral care under the guise of conversion therapy is not within their powers.
If the Scottish government goes ahead with these recommendations, O’Neill makes it clear that it will be implementing the most totalitarian conversion therapy ban in the world. All sorts of innocent people will find themselves on the wrong end of a prosecution if this becomes law.
It would result in a law that criminalises churches and gender critical feminists alike, simply because their conversations around sex and gender don’t conform to a narrow, state-approved brand of LGBT politics.
In his written opinion, O’Neill puts the matter starkly: “This would have the undoubted effect of criminalising much mainstream pastoral work of churches, mosques and synagogues and temples.
“Prayers and sermons would be criminalised if their content did not conform to the new State requirements only to affirm, validate and support the identity and lived experience expressed and stated by an individual.”
To do this, the Scottish government would have to adopt measures which impact UK equality and discrimination law. Mr O’Neill – who led for The Christian Institute in getting the Scottish government’s Named Person scheme struck down – is clear that this is outside of Holyrood’s devolved powers.
Protected from harm
But not only is this group of ‘experts’ asking the Scottish government to act unlawfully, they are also actively ignoring the laws which already protect LGBT people from physical and verbal abuse. This highlights a massive hole in Nicola Sturgeon’s plans: there is simply no need for a new law.
We all have sympathy for those who have suffered abuse or coercion. It is right to seek to stop those who cause harm. Christians have been at the forefront of campaigning on this for many years. But the law in the UK already protects LGBT people, just like anyone else. If abusive practices are being carried out, perpetrators can be held to account.
Teaching on the “importance of marriage” could be considered ‘conversion therapy’
Instead, what the proposed new law will do is overturn hard-won freedoms. The proposals would breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on multiple counts. O’Neill outlines interference with Article 8, which protects family life, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of religion, Article 10, which guarantees freedom of expression and Article 11, which guarantees the right to association.
The Scottish parliament must take Aidan O’Neill’s advice seriously. 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 criminalise opinions they don’t like.