A FRINGE church leader’s claim that banning conversion practices would “criminalise Christians” has been disputed by one of the activists behind the campaign.

Rev Dr William Philip, minister at The Tron Church in Glasgow, was one of around 20 church leaders who wrote to new equalities minister Emma Roddick claiming that a ban would criminalise the ordinary work of churches.

Philip and his congregation split from the Church of Scotland (CoS) in 2012 over moves to allow gay ministers. CoS are supportive of a ban on conversion practices and urged the Scottish Government to push ahead with the legislation in 2022.

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The letter was publicly published, with a press release also posted on the Christian Institute’s (CI) website. The group has been publicly and vocally against the conversion therapy ban and have already instructed solicitors in Scotland to prepare to lodge a judicial review when the legislation is passed.

On the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Philip went head to head with Blair Anderson, one of the founders of the End Conversion Therapy (ECT) campaign and a Scottish Greens councillor in Glasgow.

Anderson and other campaigners have argued that only an outright ban on conversion therapy will be successful, as you cannot consent to the practice, particularly as a child.

Conversion practices, sometimes also called “therapy”, is any intervention that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

This can include counselling sessions, ingesting “purifying” substances, corrective rape, threatening a person with homelessness, and even being prayed over as a form of “healing” and exorcisms.

The National: Blair Anderson is a campaigner and a Scottish Greens councillorBlair Anderson is a campaigner and a Scottish Greens councillor

The letter claims that the process of becoming a Christian is described as “conversion” and therefore the proposed ban “strikes at a central tenet of Christianity itself”.

“This means it will be very hard to avoid criminalising the ordinary work and witness of churches. Indeed, for some of those calling for a ban, this would seem to be the express purpose,” the letter added.

The church leaders further argued that Christian teaching has been that marriage is between a man and a woman, and “God has created each one of us male or female”, arguing that the ban on conversion therapy would be a “violation” of religious freedom.

Philip reiterated this view on BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday, claiming the bill would “criminalise vast swathes of the population”.

Anderson replied: “We’re not criminalising parenting, we’re criminalising conversion therapy. “When you say that if a child comes home and thinks that they might be trans and your parents are allowed to say there’s something wrong with you, I really resent the implication that there's something wrong with being trans or gay, either.”

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Philip also tried to claim that many children were “confused” over sexual identity and gender. He said: “Adolescence is a time of discovery and finding out and if people are being put under great pressure because they're being told that all the problems all the anxieties, all the issues that might have in their life might be solved by the fact that they just need to discover that they're actually got different sexuality.

“The answer to that may very well be ‘No, you're just going through a phase of life’, and ordinary parents know that and they want to be able to help their children.”

“The idea that sexuality is a phase I thought had been consigned to the 80s but apparently not,” Anderson replied.

“This will not criminalise parents, this will not criminalised prayer, this will criminalise conversion therapy, nothing more, nothing less.

“If someone is trying to change or suppress or deny someone else's sexuality or gender identity, that should be against the law.”

Professor David Galloway, of Lennox Evangelical Church, is another named signatory on the letter. He claimed that there is no “evidence-based case” for the law to be introduced.

“Yet the Scottish Government is continuing to press ahead with a law that could see ordinary Christians criminalised for merely expressing their beliefs,” he added.

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All 20 signatories on the letter are male, and include Reverend Dean Norby of the All Souls Fife Churches (Scottish Episcopal Church), Pastor Dr Jeremy McQuoid of Deeside Christian Fellowship Church, Aberdeen, and Reverend Stephen Allison of Kiltarlity Free Church, Beauly, (Free Church of Scotland).

We previously told how Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said there is “no such thing as non-coercive conversion practices” following comments made by Kate Forbes in the SNP leadership contest.

While Forbes has said conversion therapy is “abhorrent”, she said it would be a “choice” for a gay man to seek to change his sexuality. Harvie said: “Anyone who argues that people should be able to consent to this form of abuse is clearly failing to understand the issue.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Conversion practices that try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are harmful, discriminatory, and have no place in our society.

"Our aim is to address harmful acts; not general guidance, advice and support provided by parents or religious leaders.

"The legal rights to freedom of religion, expression and a private and family life are protected under existing laws and any legislation we introduce in respect of conversion practices will recognise and respect these.

“We are developing proposals to end harmful conversion practices and will publish a consultation in due course seeking views from the public and organisations.”