Plans to impose a ban in Scotland on so-called 'conversion therapy' would make it illegal for Christians to teach their beliefs, a group of cross-denominational church leaders have said.
In a letter to the newly appointed Equalities Minister in Holyrood, Emma Roddit, the group said the current proposals would go "far beyond outlawing abuse and coercion" and would "criminalise ordinary Christians and church leaders for expressing mainstream, orthodox belief".
Conversion therapy is described by LGBT campaigners as any attempt to change or suppress an individual's claimed sexuality or gender identity. They include as 'therapy' religious practices, such as praying for someone or teaching that homosexuality is a sin.
"The process of becoming a Christian – through repentance, that is, turning from sin and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord – is usually described as 'conversion'", the letter points out. "By using this Christian language of 'conversion', therefore, the proposed legislation strikes at a central tenet of Christianity itself".
"This means it will be very hard to avoid criminalising the ordinary work and witness of churches. Indeed, for some of those calling for a ban, this would seem to be the express purpose," the letter reads.
A complete ban on these claimed practices is a keystone of the power-sharing agreement between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens. The government has given a commitment to a total ban on 'conversion therapy' covering transgender identity and sexual orientation.
Rev William Philip, of the Tron Church, Glasgow and signatory to the letter, told Premier Christian News the ban could result in parents "losing their parental rights" and pastors being "re-educated or banned from preaching".
"So you have a child who comes home from school, a young adolescent, and they come home and upset. And they start to want to believe that the only answer to their problems is to begin mutilating their body, to start to change themselves into a boy or a girl. And their parents, sit them down and talk to them and want to reassure them and say 'no, don't be silly, this is just a phase you're going through, let's talk about this'...That is conversion therapy under this kind of legislation."
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: "Our aim is to address harmful acts; not general guidance, advice and support provided by parents or religious leaders. The legal rights to freedom of religion, expression and a private and family life are protected under existing laws and any legislation we introduce in respect of conversion practices will recognise and respect these.
"We are developing proposals to end harmful conversion practices and will publish a consultation in due course seeking views from the public and organisations."