The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on “Ending conversion practices in Scotland”.
The consultation states that “conversion practices” refers to acts which are intended to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The consultation proposes three measures to combat conversion practices:
1. A new criminal offence designed to catch the most serious elements. This would cover anyone providing a service or engaged in a cohesive course of conduct. There must be the intent to change and / or suppress sexual orientation or gender identity. It must be directed against an individual and cause actual harm (whether physical or psychological). It will also be a criminal offence to take someone out with Scotland for the purposes of conversion therapy.
2. A new statutory aggravation – essentially where an existing offence (such as assault / threatening behaviour) has been committed with the intention of carrying out conversion practices it can be prosecuted with an aggravation, resulting in a longer sentence.
3. A Civil Protection Order which can be applied for by individuals, police, local authorities and in some cases third party organisations where there is “potential harm” to an individual or the wider public. A breach of these orders would be a criminal offence. A civil protection order could impose wide ranging conditions on individuals to prevent “potential harm” to anyone.
The Free Church of Scotland’s Public Engagement Group has raised serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s proposed ban on ‘conversion practices’ and will be responding to the consultation.
Speaking as the public consultation on new criminal offences was launched by the government today, Rev. Stephen Allison, Public Engagement Coordinator at the Free Church of Scotland, commented: “As a church, we unequivocally condemn abusive, coercive, and violent practices. These contradict Christian teaching. The Bible teaches that everyone is worthy of respect. Christians seek to embody the love of Jesus in every aspect of life, including discussions about sex and identity.
“If there was evidence that genuinely harmful practices are not being dealt with, there may be an argument for legislation. However, we do not believe the Scottish Government has demonstrated this. Sweeping new provisions have been drafted that could criminalise conversations and other interactions that are lawful and legitimate in a free society. They raise the alarming prospect of church leaders, parents, counsellors, and others being criminalised simply for expressing the clear teaching of the Bible.
“In Christianity, conversion involves a person placing their faith in Christ for salvation and embracing His call to repentance, obedience, and service. Conversion is the gift of God, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it necessarily leads to change. The church faithfully teaches the word of God to equip Christians in every area of life.
“The Free Church was founded out of concern about state interference in the life of the Church. It retains this conviction in the modern context. We uphold the spiritual independence of the Church from the state including the right of the church to practice its own teaching. We urge the Scottish Government to reconsider, and ask politicians in every party to respect religious liberty, and broader freedoms enshrined in human rights legislation, by rejecting these proposals.”
The Free Church of Scotland’s Public Engagement Group will provide a full response to the consultation in the coming weeks. This will be made available on the Free Church website for people to view. There will also be opportunity for individuals and congregations to respond if they would like to.