At 1:20pm I will give my Verbal Submission to the Select Committee on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Law Bill.
Here is what I plan to say.
Thank you for giving your time to read my written statement and hear today’s verbal submission regarding the recently proposed “Conversion Practices Prohibition Law Bill”.
You will have noticed from my written submission that I am a Christian. I am not just a Christian but a Pastor and Tertiary Lecturer in a position to train future Pastors and Church Leaders.
You will have noticed from my written submission I have grave concerns for this piece of legislation, specifically in regards to : 1. Freedom of Speech and 2. Freedom of Religious Expression.
I would like to add the following to elaborate on these matters raised in my written submission. These are items which I have shared with three MPs over the past couple of months – some verbally, some in writing.
I am specifically addressing the wording the bill as follows.
Under “Defining Conversion Practices” the following is stated:
“The definition clarifies that it does not capture the expression only of a religious principle or belief that is not intended to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
Under “Meaning of Conversion Practices” the following is stated in Section 2, f:
“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.”
I would suggest a significant matter here is whether “persuasion” or even “intent to persuade” is a necessary component of Free Speech. I may not agree with the content of what someone freely says in society or even their desire to persuade others to change their thinking to align with what is being said. Yet for them to have the freedom to say it or even the freedom to seek to persuade others I must fully support if I am going to be consistent in upholding Free Speech in society.
In point of fact… the government is following this practice of free speech and their freedom to use speech to persuade in this very bill. Those who have written this bill have a particular understanding of terms like “conversion therapy” and “intent”, etc. They are seeking to persuade others (like me) to accept their meanings, to change my thinking and conform to the provided restrictions. Yet to do so, in this case, will bring with it a necessary restriction on my ability to exercise the same freedom to use speech with the intent to persuade others to change their thinking.
As a result we have a Bill that exists because we live in a society that allows for free speech which includes the intent to persuade and yet if this bill is adopted into law it will restrict the use of speech freely with an intent to persuade. The Bill is then grossly inconsistent and self-defeating.
Free Speech should not be used as an excuse to incite violence or harm. Yet to suggest that Free Speech cannot be used with the intent to persuade is to remove from the very definition of Free Speech one of the basic elements which makes speech truly free.
As a member of society I am committed to all people maintaining the freedom to use their speech freely with the intent to persuade others, even if I do not agree with their conclusions.
Without the freedom to use speech for persuasion, the term free speech loses much of its historic meaning. All historical, liberal democracies have celebrated freedom of speech and the right to use such free speech for the purpose of persuasion.
My concern is not to ensure there is a law that provides for people with various religious beliefs to express their opinions. That, alone, is not a correct, historic understanding of free speech. Individuals should be free to use their speech with the intent to persuade others to alter their thinking. Not manipulatively, not coercively, not abusively – of course not – yet persuasively and with intent. The one hearing such speech may not change their mind or actions. They may not even like what is being said or the way it is being said. I am often the recipient of such speech. Yet, in order to claim we are a society that values free speech, individuals must have the freedom to use their speech with intent to persuade.
As a Christian this isn’t just ensuring a law like this allows me to state my view on something publicly or privately but also my freedom to use speech with the intent to persuade. Just like others should have the freedom to use their speech with the intent to persuade me to change my thinking. This may be uncomfortable for me or for others. Yet this uncomfortableness is substantially preferable than legislation which restricts such freedom in society.
To remove this freedom and to continue to call what is left “free speech” denies the historic use of the term, undermines a core component of Liberal Democracy and becomes just a game of words.
In service as a citizen of this great land,
Joe Fleener, Pastor, Rolleston Baptist Church, Rolleston
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