Church weighs up court battle over Bible ad ban

A Belfast church is considering going to the High Court to challenge a ruling by the advertising watchdog which deemed its ad containing Bible quotations “homophobic”.

The church had appealed against the original ruling, but heard yesterday that it had been upheld after an independent review.

The review said it had been “reasonable” for the watchdog to conclude that the Bible’s teaching “may not be communicated verbatim and indiscriminately in 21st century advertising”.

Sandown Free Presbyterian Church (SFPC) says the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the reviewer had shown “unnecessary hostility” to its position, and plans to seek a judicial review of the decision.

The ad, placed by the SFPC in the Belfast News Letter last summer, contained verses from the Bible describing homosexual sex as an “abomination”.

It also invited readers to join a protest to coincide with the annual Gay Pride march in the city. The previous year, one member of the march had held up a banner stating: “Jesus is a fag”.

The ASA said it received seven complaints that the SFPC’s ad was offensive, while six said it was likely to provoke violence.

It subsequently ruled that “the complainants were justified in believing that some of the text used in the ad was homophobic, implying that homosexual people were perverted and an abomination.

“We concluded that the ad would be likely to and had caused serious offence on the grounds of sexual orientation and that insufficient care had been taken to avoid causing such offence.”

But the ASA rejected the accusation that the ad was likely to provoke violence.

An independent reviewer of the judgment told the church: “I think it was reasonable for the council to consider that codes of conduct and sanctions laid down in Biblical works from several millennia ago may not be communicated verbatim and indiscriminately in 21st century advertising”.

The minister at SFPC said: “This is a great offence to every Bible-believer from a reviewer who professes to defend the offended.”

He added: “We take great exception to the council’s conclusion that the advertisement implied that homosexual people were perverted and an abomination.

“The council clearly fails to appreciate that it was the act of sodomy in which our opposition was directed.”

The ad quoted from Leviticus 18:22, in the Authorised Version of the Bible: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination”.

It also included 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which says: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God”.

Related Resources