Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

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We submitted to the NZ Parliament Justice Select Committee considering this bill.

Follow this link to our written submission down the page.

Oral Submission

On September 15th 2021 we made an oral submission via Zoom. Video on Demand of this is available at the Justice Select Committee Facebook Page, Our submission begins at 11:45, audio only can be heard or read below.

Listen, or Download the MP3

I wish to begin by thanking the select committee for inviting me to speak to the Auckland Unitarian Church’s submission in support of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Our support is fully aligned with the stated purposes of the bill which would ban such practices to protect the human rights of vulnerable individuals and groups, in particular those who are part of the Rainbow community. So to some degree I am preaching to the choir.

There is overwhelming evidence about how destructive these practices are to the individuals subjected to them. I will leave it to those professionals better versed in that research to speak to that. What I would like to address is in my sphere of expertise, that is religious freedom. As there are faith groups who defend these practices in the name of religious freedom, Unitarians believe their arguments are spurious and must be challenged. The necessity to do so is part of our heritage.

In 1568, Francis Davíd made an eloquent case in a debate with Catholics, Lutherans and Reformers on religious freedom, arguing for it on the grounds that “faith is a gift of God, not of men”. This argument prompted the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund, in Transylvania (modern Romania) to issue the Edict of Torda. The edict is described by historian Susan Ritchie as “the first modern articulation of the principle of religious toleration by Europeans at the level of state rule”. While religious toleration sounds like an oxymoron, and the edict was not perfect, as it did not include non-Christian groups, it was a start in the right direction.

The bloody warfare between Catholics and Protestants in England prompted John Locke to further our understanding of religious freedom and tolerance in his Letter concerning toleration: He wrote:-

True and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things.

Our journey to a modern understanding of religious freedom and tolerance has been has been long and tortuous, but in 1948 the UN issued The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defining freedom of religion and belief as follows:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. (Article 18)

A corollary to the principle of freedom of worship is the freedom to practise religious duties. While not generally a source of conflict today, some run afoul of state interests. An extreme example is the practice of human sacrifice, which was common in some ancient societies. Even in cases where this might be carried out voluntarily, few would argue today that banning this practice constitutes an unnecessary abridgment of religious freedom. Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation, is a more contentious issue, with a few religious sects still claiming this to be a religious duty. Refusing blood transfusions and medical care for minors are also times when the state has intervened to protect the individual from harmful beliefs of religious duties.

Those faith groups that argue it is their religious duty to “convert” those who do not fit their definition of righteous, labelling them as less than fully human and needing correction, are not justified by the concept of religious freedom. Religious freedom cannot be practised by denying the religious freedom of others.

I am gratified by the significant number of faith groups that have made a submission supporting the passage of this bill. It should not be taken lightly that the Salvation Army and the Unitarians are on the same page regarding this issue. Its passage must be meant to be.

I now invite your questions.

Written Submission

This is the submission of the Auckland Unitarian Church in favour of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

The Auckland Unitarian Church is part of a faith tradition – Unitarianism – that originated in Europe and has developed around the world over five centuries. Unitarians have been active in New Zealand from the 19th century. Auckland Unitarians have been meeting continuously at 1a Ponsonby Road, Auckland since 1901.

Our tradition has always supported progressive causes. In early times, these causes included freedom of conscience in Europe at a time the Spanish Inquisition was burning people for heresy, and the abolition of slavery in Britain and the US. Our own church in Auckland has supported pacifism in times of war, anti-nuclear movements, environmental protection, honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, marriage equality and support for rainbow communities. We provided a place to meet, teach and organise to the Workers Education Association in the earlier part of the 20thcentury, and to the Polynesian Panthers in the 1970s, and we provided sanctuary to vulnerable Indian students threatened with deportation in 2017.

The Auckland Unitarian Church held the first same-sex marriage after the passing of marriage equality legislation in 2013.

A survey of church members drew 100% support for this submission.

Auckland Unitarians are a faith community. We do not support the position of those faith communities who wish conversion practices to continue to be protected in law. We do not believe that banning conversion therapy is a violation of religious freedom, as some faith communities have stated.

The principles we adhere to include a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, justice, equity and compassion in human relations, and respect for the interconnected web of existence, of which we are all a part.

Our principles lead us to support the right of people of all genders and all sexualities to flourish.

We abhor and condemn conversion therapy because it violates our principles and because it violates and threatens people’s worth and dignity. It works against equity and compassion and it seeks to rupture the interconnected web of existence. We seek to build a beloved community. Conversion therapy works against love and against any possibility of community for people of diverse genders and sexualities. When one part of our community is threatened, we are all threatened.

Members of the Justice Select Committee, as you consider possible changes to the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, we urge you to hear the voices of people who have suffered from conversion therapy. We urge you to consider equity and compassion for rainbow communities, and for sectors of rainbow communities who are the most vulnerable, who may also be subject to racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination because of their identities or the situations they find themselves in. When finalising the legislation, we hope you will create a law that supports rainbow communities in the most effective way possible.

We wish to be heard by the select committee.