At this point, the research is in: Everybody knows that conversion therapy is dangerous, hateful, and ineffective, with many places working to write bans against the practice into law.
In Northern Ireland, however, there’s a group whose entire reason for existing is to promote conversion therapy by muddying the science and invoking freedom of choice… and they’re an officially registered charity, making them eligible for government assistance in the form of tax breaks.
The group is called Core Issues Trust, and they describe their ultimate purpose like this:
CORE works with people who voluntarily seek to change from a “gay” lifestyle to a gender-affirming one. This is sometimes referred to as a “sexual re-orientation” process… The Church of Christ has a responsibility to support, with patience, understanding, sensitivity and respect, individuals who chose to work through those issues that have led to the homosexual impulse. The process of change is often exceedingly painful and requires the support of skillful mentors and a loving community in order to promote wholeness and restoration.
Merely abstaining from homosexual activity, although admirable, cannot be regarded as healing. Heterosexual preference is the goal of [conversion therapy] and this may often lead to marriage.
They certainly aren’t shy about stating that their approach comes from a specifically religious perspective, nor about asserting that any objections raised are tantamount to religious discrimination.
But that hasn’t scared off members of the National Secular Society (NSS), who have reached out to three key government officials — Deirdre Hargey (Communities Minister), Robin Swann (Health Minister), and Nicole Lappin (chief charity commissioner).
NSS highlighted the organization’s dubious charitable value in a letter, which in part read:
Given that this practice [conversion therapy] can cause individuals significant mental health issues and harms society by reinforcing stigmas against LGBT+ people, we believe a clear tension exists between the public benefit requirement and the promotion of ‘conversion therapy’.
Organisations that serve no clear public benefit — or worse, cause harm by actively promoting ‘conversion therapy’ — risk fundamentally undermining public confidence in the charitable sector.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans added:
Bogus therapies which encourage people to change or suppress their sexuality are harmful and widely discredited. Those promoting them shouldn’t enjoy the tax breaks and public recognition that charitable status brings.
The letters also recommended that “the advancement of religion” be removed from the official definition of a “charitable purpose,” requiring religions to provide some benefit to society beyond their own marketing in order to achieve that charitable tax break.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission of Northern Ireland says the organization will consider whether Core Issues Trust should have its charity status revoked:
The purpose of charity law is not to say if a certain belief is right or wrong. The definition of a charity in law says that you must be established for exclusively charitable purposes. A purpose must be beneficial, not harmful… A purpose must also not promote hatred towards others who do not share the same religion. The commission is considering in detail the issues raised.
In this case, the purpose is harmful precisely because it is rooted in a wrong belief. A cursory glance at their ideological arguments makes it clear: They perpetuate the very bigotry that makes opting out of sexual minority status appealing in the first place.
Like so many other religious organizations, they offer escape from a problem they themselves have created, all while striving to make the underlying problem worse for those who won’t fall in line.
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