A church in Northern Ireland, which had a newspaper ad banned for using the biblical word ‘sodomy’, has had the ban overturned in the High Court today.
The advertising regulator blocked the ad in 2008, but today the court said banning the ad was a breach of the church’s rights to free speech.
The judge, Justice Treacy, said the ad quoted well-known passages of the Bible and “constituted a genuine attempt” to stand up for the church’s beliefs.
Justice Treacy said: “Whilst such views and scriptural references may be strongly disdained and considered seriously offensive by some, this does not justify the full scope of the restrictions contained in the impugned determination.”
The judge also said the ad must be read in context. He pointed out that at the previous year’s Gay Pride march a banner stating “Jesus is a fag” was carried, uninterrupted, by one of the participants.
He also said “the advertisement did not condone and was not likely to provoke violence”.
Rev David McIlveen described the decision as a landmark ruling, meaning that scripture could be quoted freely.
In 2008 Sandown Free Presbyterian Church placed an advert in the Belfast News Letter calling on people to meet in a “gospel witness against the act of sodomy”.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received seven complaints about the advert and banned any further publication.
The full-page advert was published ahead of a Gay Pride event in Belfast. The ASA had claimed the advert was “forceful, confrontational and threatening to a section of the community”.
But the church’s lawyers said the ad showed the “classic evangelical position between loving the sinner and hating the sin”.
The advert cited a number of Bible verses, including 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Leviticus 18:22.
Rev McIlveen said: “We want to make it clear we had nothing against the seven people who objected to the advertisement.
“This is a landmark now for future decisions. People can quote the Bible and that’s a freedom that we have sought.”