Free Speech Union Conversion Therapy Submission Explained

The introduction of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill (CPP Bill) to Parliament by Minister for Justice Kris Faafoi was a long-awaited win for many Kiwis in the Rainbow Community, and wider. For others though, it represented yet another ideological over-reach by the Government, legalising what is still disputed.

We accept that members and supporters of the Free Speech Union may hold different opinions on this Bill, and to us, that is OK. Even within our team, there were differing strongly held opinions. As a Union, we accept that we will not agree on everything, yet our commitment to stand for, support, and extend the freedom of speech for all Kiwis still applies.

With this belief in mind, and leaving aside the substantial elements of the purpose behind the CPP Bill, the Free Speech Union found it necessary to draw attention to aspects of the Bill which undermine free speech. As we state in our submission, “The wider goals of this Bill aren’t of concern to our organisation, and should the concerns we raise in this submission be addressed we would have no more to contribute to the matter.”

Our submission draws attention to three key concerns related to the ways in which the Bill undermines free speech:

  • The inconsistency in stating an intention of the Bill is to promote respectful and open discussions, yet it limits free speech;
  • The limitations on an individual’s freedom of speech and right to open dialogue, preventing consent from operating as an exemption;
  • The insufficient recognition of ‘applied theology’, and the freedom of religious expression and speech, which translates into action.

One of two listed purposes of the Bill is to ‘promote respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender.’ This is a laudable goal. Facilitating free speech by promoting and opening up discussions is the surest path forward to limit harm and abuse. Yet, despite this admirable intention, the substance of the Bill goes on to shut crucial conversations down. As such, amendments to the legislation must be made. Advice provided by Crown Law states that the bill causes a significant limitation on freedom of expression,’ and that there could be a ‘chilling effect on legitimate expressions of opinions’. We believe exemptions must be included, such as a parental exemption, which will limit this ‘chilling effect.’

Further, we believe that consent for therapy for adults should be an exemption under this Bill. It has long been recognised that the rights of minors are and should be limited by the law in order to protect their own moral and mental development and wellbeing. This includes the right to free expression, both in exercising this right and witnessing it from others. However, this Bill is not content with protecting children. It insultingly questions the maturity and capacity of adults to exercise their own autonomy and ability to engage with speech of their own choosing. This Bill is for the satisfaction of the busy-bodies, and nosey neighbours. It seeks to empower them with the tools to butt in and silence conversations they are not invited to. They will be able to complain to the Human Rights Commission despite not being an aggrieved party. Their pearl-clutching will have a chilling effect on honest and sincere conversations. This is unacceptable.

Finally, this Bill fails to recognise that there is no difference between ‘the expression only of a religious principle or belief made to an individual that is not intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression’ which is the exemption currently provided to religious communities, and the application of that religious principle or belief- this is the concept of applied theology. Broad commandments or prohibition do not simply exist as hypotheticals. As such, this so-called religious exemption isn’t worth the paper it is written on. A stricter allowance is needed to ensure that this Bill does not seriously infringe on Kiwis freedom of religious expression.

The work of the Free Speech Union is to ensure no question is off the table- no perspective excluded outright. With the particular intent of this Bill to one side, accepting that Kiwis will have a variety of views on the subject itself, we submitted on this Bill in order to ensure that it stands by New Zealander’s freedom of expression and speech. Simply put, a number of amendments are necessary to accomplish this, and we will continue to work to ensure they are included.