CANBERRA, Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Australia's bishops are silent in the face of new legislation that will criminalize parents, priests and teachers who affirm Catholic teaching in helping people deal with same-sex attraction or confusion about their gender identity.
If passed, the Sexual and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 "will be amongst the most extreme laws banning conversion therapy in the world," the Human Rights Law Alliance (HRLA) is warning.
The bill, published on the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government's website Aug. 13, stipulates 12 months' imprisonment and a fine of up to $24,000 on persons who make any effort to "change" a "person's sexuality or gender identity."
No form or "combination" of sexuality or gender identity "constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability or shortcoming," states the Canberra legislative assembly's bill.
"It is clear that this Conversion Bill targets orthodox teachings of many religions," HRLA notes, since "the Conversion Bill will not permit 'the manifestation or demonstration of religious belief, or the expression of information or ideas, that seek to change a person's sexuality or gender identity.'"
In comments to Church Militant, HRLA principal lawyer John Steenhof said he regarded the bill as "fundamentally flawed" and its drafting as "imprecise and ambiguous."
"It has the potential to criminalize parents, guardians, teachers and pastors who provide moral, ethical and religious care for the formation of children," Steenhof remarked. "It goes far beyond its stated purpose of banning coercive conversion treatments for sexual orientation and gender identity issues."
The lawyer clarified that "the criminal sanctions applied to any 'treatment' or 'practice' on the plain meaning of those terms," and thus included "virtually any activity and not just professional or therapeutic services of a coercive nature."
Hence, a priest who counsels a member of his congregation over unwanted same-sex attraction is at risk of a conversion-practice complaint and is at risk even if the person approached him of their own volition, an HRLA statement explains.
Further, the bill can "invade the preacher's pulpit and expose him to the risk of a conversion-practice complaint if the preacher teaches on the biblically orthodox view of sexuality."
A Sunday School teacher could be criminalized for teaching a confirmation class and quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church on "homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity" according to Sacred Scripture or "intrinsically disordered" according to Tradition or "contrary to the natural law."
The bill also empowers the ACT Human Rights Commission to investigate churches that hold to an orthodox Catholic position on sexuality and gender for suspected conversion practices — even if no complaints have ever been received.
"If a 5-year-old biological girl tells her parents that she wants to be a boy, criminal proceedings could be brought against her parents, school, teachers and doctors if they continue to treat her as a girl," Steenhof writes.
Or, if they "counsel her to love the body she was born with, explore alternative reasons other than gender confusion for this expressed desire — or if they adopt a 'watchful waiting' approach in relation to these desires," they could be charged with criminal conduct, he stresses.
Ironically, the bill states that "sexuality or gender identity conversion practice does not include a practice the purpose of which is to — assist a person who is undergoing a gender transition," clarifying that it is legal to persuade a person to change their biological gender.
Christian Schools Australia, Adventist Schools Australia, the Australian Association of Christian Schools and the Islamic School of Canberra have asked the government to guarantee their rights to continue teaching in line with their beliefs about gender and sexuality.
However, the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference — which is emphasizing Aug. 30 as Social Justice Sunday — has thus far not responded to the bill.
On Friday, an unsigned article on the website of the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn — written in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) — acknowledged that parents, grandparents, guardians or teachers could be imprisoned if they have a "simple conversation with my children who are experiencing gender dysphoria and counsel them to think carefully about gender transitioning."
"The ACT government will be taking away your human rights," the article stated. HRLA agrees that the bill "places unjustifiable limits on fundamental rights and freedoms that are completely unnecessary to achieve whatever legitimate aims the bill might have."
HRLA lawyer Alex Millard told Church Militant, "We are not aware of the Canberran archbishop issuing any statement."
"The writing is on the wall. Timid church leadership is called to stand up — no matter the risk to nonprofit status — and to assert and defend biblical teaching that has defined human sexuality from Genesis to Revelation," Dr. Mike Davidson, chairman of the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC) told Church Militant.
"Banning 'conversion practices' will ban Bible proclamation, teaching and testimony," he added. "With the aggressive secular culture that has developed towards anyone who does not want to embrace homosexuality or transsexual ideology, people are left with nowhere to turn," IFTCC notes.
"The bill is proposed legislation that will apply to the Australian Capital Territory. It will not apply in other jurisdictions around Australia. However, other state and territory parliaments are starting to draft their own conversion therapy laws that share similarities with the ACT bill," Millard warned.