Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advertising Standards Authority Finds Belfast Church's Anti-Gay Ad In Breach Of Code

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a Belfast church's ad with a headline reading "The word of God against Sodomy," and addressing homosexuality as "God's judgment upon a sin" and condemning it in other ways. The ASA indicated that it had received four complaints. The church maintained that the quotations were from the Bible and represented religious beliefs.

Here is part of the ASA's ruling.

Sandown Free Presbyterian Church (SFPC) said the ad was not homophobic but was based on the statement "THE WORD OF GOD AGAINST SODOMY".  They pointed out that the quotations included in the ad were biblical and, therefore, formed an integral part of SFPC's religious convictions.  They said they could not be held responsible if readers were offended by the message of the Bible.

The ASA noted the ad prominently stated "Published by the Kirk Session of Sandown Free Presbyterian Church" and recognised that readers would understand that the text was representative of the beliefs of a specific group and indicative of their opinion only.  We considered, however, that some of the text used in relation to homosexuality, for example, "... declaring it to be an abomination ...", "... God's judgement upon a sin ...", "... remove the guilt of their wrongdoing ...", "... a cause for regret that a section of the community desire to be known for a perverted form of sexuality ...", went further than the majority of readers were likely to find acceptable.

We considered that particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of sexual orientation, and concluded that this ad had caused serious offence to some readers.   

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency) but did not breach 8.1 (Matters of opinion).

We understood that the complainants were concerned because the ad called for an outdoor meeting to be held in protest of the act of sodomy and to voice disapproval of the Belfast Gay Pride parade on the same day as the parade was arranged; they believed this action could be read as an attempt to spread hatred and incite violence against supporters and members of the Pride movement and LBGT community.

While we appreciated the complainants' concern, we considered that the ad did not in itself incorporate language likely to incite a violent emotional response.  We considered that it would be clear to readers that it represented the views of a specific group, which were not universally held, and would be deemed extreme by some.  We acknowledged, therefore, that the ad conveyed an opinion that was controversial for some readers but concluded that it was unlikely to provoke hatred or violence against the LGBT community.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 8.1 (Matters of opinion) and 11.1 (Violence and anti-social behaviour) but did not find it in breach.


The ad should not appear again in its current form.  We told SFPC to take more care in future to avoid causing offence and advised them to seek a view from the CAP Copy Advice team before publishing future marketing material.

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