Advertising Standards Authority decides that Christian website is allowed to say that ‘God can heal’
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided that Healing on the Streets (HOTS), a Christian organisation based in Bath, can continue to say ‘God can heal’ on their website. A complaint made against a leaflet which was made available via the HOTS website has been upheld, but the ASA have decided that the website itself falls outside of their jurisdiction. This alters an earlier ruling in February, in which the ASA decided that HOTS could not make the claim either in the leaflet or on their website. The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes that the ASA should have maintained their original decision on this case, and that the alteration to the adjudication demonstrates again the Agency’s inconsistency on the issue of religion and a consequent lack of transparency and unpredictability in regulation.
The leaflet and the website were viewed on 10 May 2011. The leaflet read ‘NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We'd love to pray for your healing right now! We're Christians from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness’. The website stated that ‘Our vision is to: Promote Christian Healing as a daily life style for every believer, through demonstration, training and equipping. We are working in unity, from numerous churches outside the four walls of the building, In order to: Heal the sick...’.
The person who complained to the ASA made four points: firstly, that the claim in the leaflet that HOTS could heal the named medical conditions was misleading; secondly, that the claim on the HOTS website also misleadingly implied that they could heal these conditions; thirdly, that both the leaflet and the website gave false hope to people suffering from theseillnesses; and finally, that both could discourage people suffering from these conditions from seeking conventionalmedical treatment.
In its initial judgment on 1 February, the ASA upheld all four complaints, ruling that ‘the ads must not appear again in their current form. We told HOTS not to make claims which stated or implied that, by receiving prayer from their volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions. We also told them not to refer in their ads to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought’. But in a further judgement dated 13 June, the ASA decided to remove the second complaint from the adjudication, on the basis that the claims made on the website (which the second complaint relates to) lie beyond their jurisdiction. However, they decided that the first, third and fourth complaints would remain upheld.
The ASA has a history of inconsistency on the issue of adverts which involve religion. There have been cases where the ASA has banned adverts which were accused of offending religious sensibilities, and in doing this they have come perilously close to introducing a blasphemy law through the back door. For example, in September last year, the ASA upheld complaints made against the Phones4U ‘Buddy Christ’ advert, which included a cartoon depiction of Jesus from the film Dogma, alongside the slogan ‘miraculous deals on Samsung Galaxy Android Phones’. But the ASA has also cleared some adverts which were criticised on religious grounds. Only last month, the agency cleared an advert by a chain of hairdressing salons based in Bristol, which contained a picture of Jesus with the slogan ‘He is coming...Better get your hair done!’, and which had attracted complaints from Christians.
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented that ‘the decision by the ASA to exclude the second complaint from their adjudication on the Healing on the Streets case is bizarre. If HOTS were making misleading claims in their advertising, it should make no difference whether these claims are made on a leaflet which is distributed via their website, on the actual website itself. The ASA have already demonstrated their inconsistency on the issue of religion. This case gives further support to our argument that the codes which govern the ASA’s adjudications need to be rewritten.'