A leading LGBT activist in the UK wants the government to include a ban on “gentle non-coercive prayer” in legislation prohibiting conversion therapy.
Jayne Ozanne, a prominent LGBT campaigner, described all prayer as dangerous and harmful if offered with the intent to change an individual’s sexuality or ‘gender identity.’
Ozanne’s comments follow Bishop David Walker’s remarks supporting a ‘gay conversion’ ban, in which he said faith leaders should be punished if they have harmed someone through conversion attempts.
“Where activity has harmed someone, the person who has caused the harm should face prosecution,” the Bishop of Manchester told The Guardian.
Walker said he was not referring to “gentle, non-coercive prayer, but where there is a level of power imbalance and a level of force.”
Ozanne said she was grateful for Walker’s support for a ban, but claimed all prayer for the purpose of conversion should be banned.
“I’m very grateful to Bishop David for his clear support for a ban, although I would strongly refute that ‘gentle non-coercive prayer’ should be allowed,” Ozanne said.
“All prayer that seeks to change or suppress someone’s innate sexuality or gender identity is deeply damaging and causes immeasurable harm, as it comes from a place – no matter how well-meaning – that says who you are is unacceptable and wrong.”
All conversion “therapy” was coercive, she added. “We know that this occurs in numerous Church of England churches and many other faith settings – indeed there are evangelical organisations that openly advocate it. This must stop before more lives are ruined and sadly even lost.”
The Christian Institute penned a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it is ‘alarmed’ by this latest threat to prayer, warning it would violate the human rights of Christians.
In a media release, a spokesperson for the Christian organisation said: “While the Institute does not oppose a ban that protects people from harmful pseudo-medical practices, the idea that ‘gentle non-coercive prayer’ should be included in a list of illegal actions is alarming. In any event, it would violate the human rights of believers.
“Those pushing for the ban to include ordinary prayer seem to attribute the worst possible motives to those of us who hold different theological beliefs from them. They are not willing to listen to mainstream Christian groups or to their concerns.
“Now they have gone a step further by stating that the legislation should cover not only practices they consider coercive but all forms of prayer, no matter how mild,” the organisation added.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute said Ozanne’s remark is revealing, suggesting it shows the focus is not about protecting people from abusive behaviour.
“It’s about criminalising mainstream theology that campaigners on the fringe of the church don’t agree with,” he said.
“In Britain we worked out centuries ago that prosecuting people for praying ‘the wrong kind of prayer’ was oppressive, counter-productive and wrong. Apparently, there are some who want to drag us back to the dark days of prosecuting people for not having the same religion. Thankfully, most people think this is a terrible idea. The UK Government must make clear that it does too,” Calvert added.