A ban on conversion therapy could prevent Christians from speaking out to oppose those who wish to change their gender, according to lawyers from the Christian Institute.
A Bill banning conversion therapy – which is the practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity - is due to be published by the government later this year.
The Christian Institute fears it could outlaw private prayer and hamper any form of spiritual guidance for people struggling with their sexuality or their gender.
The warning comes as the Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has written to MPs pledging to ensure that any ban does not criminalise parents, teachers and church leaders who uphold the Bible’s teaching on gender and sexual ethics.
In the letter, Badenoch writes that the legislation “should not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender related distress”.
She restated the Government’s commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny of proposals, saying it would help ensure “faith leaders, parents, teachers or counsellors continue to be able to have exploratory conversations with people about their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity.
“The freedom to express the teachings of any religion, as well as everyday religious practice, will not be affected by the ban.”
Welcoming the letter, the Christian Institute’s deputy director Simon Calvert said: “This letter confirms what we’ve been saying for years. Banning conversion therapy is an absolute minefield, primarily because no one knows what it is.
“Activists used to say they wanted to outlaw brutal abuse like electro-shock therapy. But that’s already illegal. Now they’re admitting what they really want is to outlaw traditional theology and gender critical feminism.
“They are profoundly intolerant. They don’t like the idea of churches praying prayers they don’t agree with.
“They don’t like women’s activists and parents discouraging young people from rushing into gender transition. So they are weapon-ising the language of safeguarding to try to bounce Parliament into outlawing the opinions of their theological and philosophical opponents. This is not what the criminal law is for.
“If Parliament passes a law that tramples on basic freedoms of speech and religion we are ready to go to court to protect the fundamental right of parents and pastors to calmly explain their ethical beliefs without being prosecuted as abusers.”
UK Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has confirmed that the government will publish the draft Bill shortly and will ask for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee. She said that would help ensure any Bill on conversion therapy does not cause “unintended consequences”, such as “criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children”.