Norwegian lawyers: Conversion ban will not affect intercession
Will pastors still be allowed to pray for those who struggle with their sexual orientation? Many churches in Norway fear this will become illegal when the ban on conversion therapy comes into force. The lawyers' association in the country has reassurance for them.
The ban on conversion therapy seems to become a reality shortly in Norway. A proposal is now on the table. But Nicolai V. Skjerdal from the Norwegian Bar Association's law committee is not too worried. "The term infringement that is included changes much of the picture", he tells Vart Land.
During the consultation period, the lawyers' association criticised a previous proposal from the government on the issue. The association pointed out that the draft was too unclear about which practices were illegal. In addition, the legal experts believed that the wording of the proposal violated the right to self-determination, which is enshrined in international conventions and the Norwegian Constitution.
This last problem is now solved, Skjerdal thinks. "I understand it to mean that by setting up infringement as a condition for punishability, there will be room to take into account the individual's right to self-determination", he says to Vart Land.
That makes the bill much more nuanced than the earlier version, he adds. The latest draft reads that "anyone offends another by using methods to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can be punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 years. "By introducing an infringement criterion, you will be able to safeguard the right to self-determination, but that requires that you actually practice it that way", Skjerdal says.
The Norwegian government explains that the term "offends another" calls for an "overall assessment". It adds that only systematic practices that violate a certain threshold will be punishable.
In the overall assessment, the nature of the act, the situation of the victim and the relationship between the victim and perpetrator will be taken into account. Consent is also weighed, but it is not seen as a decisive factor. If the conversion therapy was consented to, the assessor should look at whether the practice could have potentially harmed the victim.
At the same time, the proposal explicitly mentions "religiously based methods". In the elaboration, the government explains that this will apply to, for example, "public laying on of hands or other systematic attempts at healing and the like through religious rituals". These acts will also become illegal.
It also says that it cannot be ruled out that certain specific instances of intercession may become illegal, depending on the circumstances.
Still, this does not worry Skjerdal from the Bar Association. He believes that the threshold the proposal sets out is too high for that. "There has basically never been an occasion to oppress, pressure, torment, or offend people in the name of religion. It is already taken care of in the legislation."
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