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UK News

Northern Ireland Executive threatened with legal action over including prayer in conversion therapy ban

by Kelly Valencia

The Christian Institute has written a letter to the Northern Ireland Executive threatening legal action if praying for someone about their sexual orientation is included in the conversion therapy (CT) ban. 

A ban on conversion therapy in Northern Ireland is in the works after a motion, brought by Ulster Unionist assembly members (MLAs) Doug Beattie and John Stewart, was approved in April. 

In a letter addressed to the Executive's Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey MLA, the Christian Institute argues that "a badly drafted CT ban could inadvertently criminalise those in churches and other faith communities who adhere to traditional beliefs about marriage and gender identity and be open to legal challenge".

"Should any proposals from the Department infringe upon the everyday church activities outlined within the enclosed Opinion our client will not hesitate, where appropriate, to seek a judicial review," the letter reads. 

Speaking to Premier, Simon Calvert, head of public policy at the Christian Institute, said their concern is not with banning conversion therapy per se but instead they are worried that activists are wanting to ban "ordinary everyday practices of churches" such as preaching, pastoring, praying and even parenting. 

"That's our concern. It's that ordinary praying and preaching in churches could be deemed to be conversion therapy. And then you get in a situation where the police and the courts are adjudicating on whether or not somebody prayed the wrong kind of prayer," he said. 

The charity also argued that the current draft of the ban could lead to a potential breach of human rights and added that they will be willing to seek "to have the legislation declared incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights or struck down". 

Simon Calvert stressed that the purpose of the letter is to "remind the government of its obligations under human rights law" and to remind people that there are "very strong legal reasons why you cannot outlaw prayer". 

He went on to encourage people to pray for "fairer media coverage". 

"I think the media coverage on this has been very one-sided. And I think that people have not been questioned properly about it, do you really want to criminalise the preaching and practice of evangelical theology? because for some people, that is clearly what they want. And I think most people would think that that is quite wrong and quite repressive." 

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