Church leaders tell Rishi Sunak legislation will also see parents and teachers fall foul of the law
By Nick Gutteridge, Political Correspondent
26 January 2023 • 8:30pm
Christians are at risk of being “criminalised” by a proposed new ban on trans conversion therapy, 1,400 church leaders have warned Rishi Sunak.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, they said the legislation would also see parents and teachers fall foul of the law. They have called for a meeting with Mr Sunak in Downing Street and urged him to drop the “confused” and “unnecessary” proposal.
The Government has said the new law, which will ban all forms of conversion therapy in England and Wales, will cover trans people.
Mr Sunak is facing a Tory revolt over the plans, with dozens of MPs from different wings of the party set to oppose it in Parliament.
Church leaders from different denominations have said the teachings of their faiths are “at grave risk of being outlawed by the proposed legislation”.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, they wrote: “If the Government gives in to activists’ demands, it appears almost certain that innocent Christians will be criminalised. Indeed, this seems to be the goal of at least some of those most eager for a new law.
“We trust you are well aware of the harm being caused to children by the inappropriate promotion of questionable ideologies. Children are left confused about what it means to be male or female, what constitutes appropriate sexual behaviour, and the basic question of who they are.
“We fear that the proposed legislation could far worsen the situation by stifling the voices of loving parents and pastoral carers.”
The letter has been written by the authors of the Greater Love Declaration, a message about Christian teachings on marriage, sex and identity. It says the signatories, including 1,400 pastors, will continue to preach in the same way “even if this should become illegal”.
Rev Dr Matthew Roberts of Trinity Church in York, who wrote the letter, claimed campaigners were “pushing a narrative” that Christian beliefs “are harmful”.
He said: “They have made clear they are unwilling to accept a new law which does not criminalise ordinary believers and Christian leaders.
“The Government has said that it wants to protect religious freedom. That is a very welcome aim. But we remain unconvinced that the Government can avoid unintended consequences in the passage of this Bill.”
Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, has written to Tory MPs setting out how freedom of religion must be protected under the new law. In a letter designed to quell growing anxiety among backbenchers, she admitted the first draft would not be perfect and vowed to protect parents from prosecution.
The legislation presents a particular threat to Mr Sunak because of fierce opposition to it from both the Left and Right of the Conservative Party.
Some members of his top team, including Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, have also privately expressed concerns about the impact of the law.
In a statement, the Equalities Office said that “there are clearly issues that are not fully resolved” about how the ban will work.
“We are determined that legislation will not cause harm to children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress by inadvertently impacting on legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children,” the statement said.
“Pre-legislative scrutiny exists to prevent this, and other unintended consequences, by utilising stakeholder expertise and input from parliamentarians.”