Prayer in General Considered a Harmful Form of “Conversion Therapy” by Cooper Report
The Cooper Report has been recently published by the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum that was founded at the end of June. The Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum is a multidisciplinary group of parliamentarians, academics, barristers, legal professionals and survivors, whose aim is to ban any form of what is by them considered as conversion therapy. The Forum also considers any from of prayer as a harmful practice used for conversion therapy. They further state that an individual cannot consent to any form of conversion therapy. This implies that Christians or people in general, who seek help or guidance when they struggle with their gender identity, would not be allowed to get pastoral help that is not confirming their new gender identity, which the persons are maybe not even sure about yet. The Report further states that the human right of religious freedom is to be seen as inferior in this case.
As the Baroness Kennedy QC -chair of the Forum- pointed out, the agenda that they are carrying out is “essential when dealing with human-rights abuses, as this draws a clear line as to what acts will and will not be tolerated in a civilised society. This should sit alongside new civil-law measures, such as protection orders, which will help provide immediate support to those most at risk — such as LGBT+ children and vulnerable adults. This will ensure that perpetrators are left in no doubt that if they continue their harmful practices, they will face the full force of the law.”
Among the proposals contained in the text, it is suggested to rename these therapies and call them practices. “This avoids confusion as to whether the word ‘therapy’ refers solely to procedures of a professional or medical nature, particularly given that the majority of instances of conversion practices occur predominantly in religious and cultural contexts. Further, the term ‘therapy’ is highly misleading given the harm such interventions are known to cause, Kennedy QC clarifies.
One crucial aspect included in the report directly affecting religious freedom is related with prayer and the role of religious leaders or institutions. This part of the report was commissioned by the Ozanne Foundation.
"The right to manifest religion and belief, such as through prayer, cannot be construed to license and permit individuals to inflict physical or psychological harm, or significantly risk a person to suffer harm. There can therefore be no exemption for such conversion practices on the basis that they take the form of worship or other practices rooted in spirituality.
(…) Conversion practices provided by religious institutions and religious leaders, such as intensive prayer regimens and/or religious counselling, have been found to frequently result in deep shame, low self-esteem, and internalised self-hatred leading to profound mental health problems. This shows how coercive these practices can be.
The report does assume that prayer is coercive prayer is coercive and the role of religious ministers is to compel rather than to provide help and comfort. What it does not mention is what would happen in the event that an individual freely chooses to opt for religious practices.
"The Forum stresses that the ban would not criminalise any prayer that seeks to help an individual come to a point of peace and acceptance about their sexual orientation or gender identity, that is which does not have a predetermined purpose (…) The ban must apply generally and not differentiate between secular, religious, or cultural contexts. Conversion practices are equally harmful irrespective of their context and can be exacerbated by the additional stigma and pressure that are experienced in a religious or cultural setting. The majority of conversion practices are conducted by individuals who are not professionally trained in therapeutic practices, such as religious leaders or members of an individual’s community. Therefore, limiting a ban to the medical professions would not capture the primary source of these practices."
As reported by Christian Today, the report has many gaps and fails to clarify a number of fundamental concepts that could prevent an obstacle to religious freedom.
1.The report portrays all forms of conversion therapy as violence and torture.
2.The report offers no evidence of either the prevalence of conversion therapy or what it actually is.
3.The report permits and encourages some forms of conversion therapy.
4. The report argues that freedom of religion should be restricted.
5.The report states that adults cannot consent to conversion therapy.
6. The report does away with individual privacy and human rights.