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The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, proposed by the Andrews government in Victoria, is the biggest attack on religious freedom in Australia’s history.

It could put people like you and me in jail. It will certainly see criminal action against Christian parents. It could even outlaw the teaching of the Bible.

Let’s step through the words of the Bill itself…

5 Meaning of change or suppression practice

  • 1. ​In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent—
    1. on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and
    2. for the purpose of—
      1. changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or
      2. ​​inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Bill bans conduct. What is conduct? Conduct is any action whatsoever. The Bill bans conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent.

It makes no difference if someone asks for help. They cannot voluntarily seek out the things the bill prohibits, and you cannot respond to them.

Before I walk through some examples which fit into that, note further…

Section 5(2) makes it clear that this is a one-way street. It does not apply to any conduct that seeks to change or induce a change to homosexual orientation, or transgender identity. It does not apply to assisting a person to transition. It does not apply to any conduct that is pro-LGBT, or affirming of LGBT, or guiding a person to LGBT identity. The Bill states:

  • 2. For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice or conduct is not a change or suppression practice if it—
    1. ​is supportive of or affirms a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation including, but not limited to, a practice or conduct for the purposes of—
      1. assisting a person who is undergoing a gender transition; or
      2. assisting a person who is considering undergoing a gender transition; or
      3. ​assisting a person to express their gender identity; or
      4. ​providing acceptance, support or understanding of a person; or

Section 5(3) lists some specific examples of illegal practices…

  • 3. For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following
    1. ​providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;
    2. carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism;
    3. giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.

The Explanatory Notes to the Bill further clarifies that it is “intended to capture a broad range of conduct… including informal practices… conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression.”

The Objects Clause – section 3 – further notes that the Bill’s purpose is to ensure that LGBT people can feel welcome and valued in Victoria and are able to live authentically and with pride.

Section 8 then provides that the Bill applies to you even if you live interstate. It says that the Act applies to “conduct outside, or partly outside, Victoria” and has effect “as if it had been engaged in wholly within Victoria.”

Let’s run through some hypothetical examples…

Example 1:

Let’s say “Pastor Jim” preaches a sermon on Christian marriage and discusses Christian sexual ethics from Ephesians 5 and Romans 1.

A church member, “Adrian,” approaches Pastor Jim afterwards and tells him that he sometimes feels attracted to other men, but that he really wants to follow God’s will for his life and get married to a woman and be a family man one day. He asks if Pastor Jim would pray for him.

Pastor Jim puts his hand on Adrian’s shoulder and says a prayer, then assures Adrian that he is available for any support he needs, and affirms that he is doing a good thing.

First – was it conduct? Yes. In fact, it was conduct mentioned in one of the examples within the Bill – it was prayer.

Second – was it directed towards a person? Yes.

Third – was it on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity? Yes.

Fourth – was it for the purpose of inducing a person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity? Yes, it was. Certainly, the sermon was too. God’s will and His approval rests on heteronormative living—that is inducing someone to be heteronormative.

Fifth – does it matter that it was with Adrian’s consent? Or by request? No. It makes no difference.

Indeed, the sermon alone satisfies the criteria. The prayer alone satisfies the criteria.

What if the sermon was delivered in Sydney and posted online, and Adrian watched it on the church website from Melbourne? Or had an email exchange with pastor Jim from Melbourne rather than a conversation?

Pastor Jim’s actions are still illegal.

What if Pastor Jim indicated that he was unable to help Adrian because he didn’t know enough about the issue, but gave him the name of someone who is ex-LGBT who gives support to people like Adrian? That is illegal, too.

Or what if Pastor Jim did that by email from Darwin? That is also illegal.

In summary: Sermons and prayers are illegal. They could be criminal. That could result in jail. Indeed, the Bible itself induces a person to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Example 2:

What about parents? This Bill also includes an amendment to the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 in section 64 to include the following specific example of “emotional or psychological abuse.”

”An adult child repeatedly denigrating an elderly parent’s sexual orientation, including by telling them it is wrong to be same-sex attracted and that they must change or the adult child will no longer support them.”

Now you will immediately sense that example is far-fetched, but here is the deception in it: if they had reversed the roles, to say a parent is telling their child that same-sex attraction is wrong, it would provoke outcry.

But that is the real reason it’s there—because the example applies in reverse, too.

If a person upholds a moral standard in relation to sexuality or gender identity, then it follows that this example makes them into emotional and psychological abusers for the purposes of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.

Every Christian parent has just been made an emotional and psychological abuser of their children.

Note there is nothing said about the age of the child. These are not merely mature minors.

Apart from pastors and parents, other examples abound of individuals and groups that will be at risk because of the Bill…

  • Health practitioners searching for underlying causes, supporting a parent in the “wait and see” approach, for good scientific and common sense reasons.
  • Ex-LGBT people and counsellors who offer support to ex-LGBT people and those with questions about their sexuality or gender.
  • Christian schools, churches, and faith organisations that have codes of conduct and behavioural standards and Christian sex-ed programs.

Note, “sexual orientation” is defined in the Bill in such a way that it includes heterosexual people. So, ideas around abstinence and celibacy are also out.

Every conversation on this subject is affected, even private ones, even consensual ones. Every action done in relation to this subject, every Bible verse about this subject, every Christian institution with a code of conduct, every counsellor, doctor, teacher, pastor, parent, foster carer, every average joe.

Every conversation. Every written word. Every book, every website. Every parent, leader, friend, author—are all about to be potentially under police investigation.

Which brings me to the penalties.

The Bill lists criminal offences in Part 2.

The first, in section 10, is where the conduct leads to serious injury – the penalty is up to 10 years in jail, or a $200,000 fine or both.

The second, in section 11, is where the conduct leads to injury – the penalty is up to 5 years in jail, or a $100,000 fine, or both.

Now this is where apologists for the Bill will say I am being alarmist, because for jail terms to result, there needs to be injury. But what is injury?

Injury, according to section 4, has the same meaning as in the Crimes Act, which includes temporary injury, and includes harm to mental health.

There will be no problem whatsoever getting a rainbow flag waving counsellor to say someone’s anguish over their LGBT identification has been exacerbated by something said at a church, or a prayer prayed by a person, or a rule laid down by a parent, or a line in a book, or a course of treatment from a medical professional, or something they were told by their friend, or an advertisement for counselling support, or anything else.

In other words, like the notion of “conversion therapy” itself, “injury” sounds very serious but is defined with a huge amount of flexibility.

It will take very little for all the things I have said to result in jail terms.

But even if jail is not involved, the Bill empowers the ideologues at the Equal Opportunity Commission to investigate (sections 34-35), demand the production of information or documents (section 36), and impose remedies on people and organisations (sections 32-33). It permits the Commission to refer matters to the police (section 29).

It permits anyone at all to complain, whether or not they are affected (section 24), and it permits their identity to remain secret (section 40), and the content of their complaint to remain secret (section 41).

You can also be summoned to the Commission and made to give an answer (section 37). You can be forced into a legally binding agreement of pretty much any kind to remedy or make reparation for the things you do (Division 4).

This will result in stressful, protracted investigations, which could involve police knocking on your door, which could involve you being forced to give up whatever documents the commission wants, which will be conducted with the threat of jail hanging over your head.

This truly is a crucial moment for religious freedom in Australia.