Conversion therapy: Christians warn MSPs they face court action over ‘bias’ if Holyrood passes ban law

Conversion therapy: Christians warn MSPs they face court action over ‘bias’ if Holyrood passes ban law

The Scottish Parliament has been warned that it could face legal action if it passes legislation banning ‘conversion therapy’, based on the “bias” and “inadequate scrutiny” of the issue by a committee of MSPs.

The warning has been delivered in a letter from The Christian Institute (CI). The CI expresses concern that the majority making up the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee (EHRCJ) “are too close” to the End Conversion Therapy Scotland (ECTS) group, whose petition is currently being considered by the committee.

Ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election, ECTS asked all MSP candidates to sign a public pledge to ban conversion therapy on the campaigners’ terms. Of the 10 EHRCJ committee members, seven promised to back the campaign.

The letter from the CI’s deputy director Simon Calvert to Holyrood’s presiding officer Alison Johnstone states: “This means that many of the committee members have felt obliged to publicly declare their prior support for the terms of the petition every time the committee meets to scrutinise it.

“How can the committee be expected to exercise impartial, critical judgement when most of its members have given assurances directly to the campaign group whose claims they are scrutinising and have promised to enact the very policies being sought?”

Mr Calvert says “bias” has become evident in the way the Holyrood committee has been operating and states in his letter: “Out of eight evidence sessions held by the EHRCJ … only one gave opportunity for any of these concerns to be raised. The session on 16 November 2021 heard from Christian and other groups who question how far the ban should go. The other seven sessions were given over solely to advocates who support [the petition] without reservation.

“Furthermore, the panel on 16 November was the only one where witnesses were asked hostile questions. The other sessions felt very much like conversations between friends and allies.”

The CI has also cited further evidence to back up its bias allegation, including:

  • some Committee members have written tweets giving unqualified support to the campaign group;
  • the Committee has held at least one unannounced closed door session and failed to provide any formal record of the meeting; and
  • two of the petition’s authors - Tristan Gray and Blair Anderson - failed to disclose they are Green Party activists at a time when the Greens’ agreement with the SNP includes a commitment on banning conversion therapy.

Mr Calvert adds: “Ill-thought-out conversion therapy bans in other countries are being strongly resisted by churches, not because they wish to practise ‘conversion therapy’, but because the bans go much further and outlaw innocent, everyday church activities including people praying for their friends.

“It is very regrettable that concerns such as these seem to have fallen on deaf ears with the EHRCJ. The public expects impartial scrutiny. Instead, Committee members have made promises to campaign groups and taken evidence disproportionately from those supporting the petition.”

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