Court allows church to challenge Bible ad ban

A church in Northern Ireland has been given permission to challenge a ban on its advertisement expressing the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.

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.

But High Court judge Mr Justice Weatherup said that the church’s rights to religious belief and freedom of expression may have been breached.

The judge also found that the ASA may have banned the ad before the church had a chance to give an explanation.

He also suggested the ASA meet with the church to come to an agreement.

He said: “If the two parties engage with what the other is actually saying there may be an outcome.”

The full page advert was published before a Gay Pride event in Belfast.

In court the ASA said the advert was “forceful, confrontational and threatening to a section of the community”.

But John Larkin QC said Sandown Free Presbyterian Church was showing 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.

Last year, a leading gay activist criticised the advert ban.

Jeff Dudgeon, who in 1976 headed a campaign which led to the eventual decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, said he was “not enthusiastic” about the ASA ruling and did not regard such adverts as problematic for the gay community.

He said: “There are important freedom of speech issues, especially regarding Christian biblical texts.”

He added: “You can waste time fretting about biblical texts rather than getting on with relevant issues – for example, real violence against the gay community.”

Related Resources