Friday 3 February 2012

ASA rules against faith-healing claims

First it was the BBC:
Bath Christian group's 'God can heal' adverts banned

A Christian group has been banned from claiming that God can heal illnesses on its website and in leaflets.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it had concluded that the adverts by Healing on the Streets (HOTS) - Bath, were misleading. It said a leaflet available to download from the group's website said: "Need Healing? God can heal today!" The group, based in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, said it was disappointed with the decision and would appeal. HOTS Bath said its vision was to promote Christian healing "as a daily lifestyle for every believer".
But the BBC was cagey about the origin of the complaint:
The ASA said it had been alerted to the adverts by a complainant, and concluded that they could encourage false hope and were irresponsible. HOTS Bath said: "It seems very odd to us that the ASA wants to prevent us from stating on our website the basic Christian belief that God can heal illness.
It's not odd, it's the law. HOTS Bath may consider it a "basic Christian belief that God can heal illness" but unless they can substantiate that claim they have no business putting it in an ad on a website, and therefore the ASA ruling is correct.

The ASA didn't reveal the identity of the complainant. Said complainant, however, was understandably aggrieved at the statement subsequently placed on the HOTS website:
It appears that the complaint to the ASA was made by a group generally opposed to Christianity, and it seems strange to us that on the basis of a purely ideological objection to what we say on our website, the ASA has decided it is appropriate to insist that we cannot talk about a common and widely held belief that is an important aspect of conventional Christian faith.
Hayley Stevens, well-known skeptic and paranormal investigator — and the complainant in this case — decided to put the record straight on her blog, Hayley is a Ghost, despite the adverse publicity likely to result. This was then taken up by the Bath Chronicle, which quotes Hayley on her reasons for making the complaint to the ASA. Still HOTS Bath fail to understand the issue at hand, illustrating the de facto privileged position religious faith continues to enjoy — and expect — in the UK. They maintain the ASA (and by extension Hayley Stevens herself, as complainant) are objecting to their ideology, when in fact it's a simple matter of evidence for claims made.

The story then appeared on the Daily Mail website, together with an invitation for reader comments. The article itself is reasonably (and unusually) dispassionate — but the comments, as might be expected, are something else.

Hayley Stevens is to be applauded for not only making the complaint in the first place, but also for standing up to be counted despite the unwelcome attention she must have known it would bring.

A short interview with Hayley Stevens, conducted after the recent Beyond the Veil one-day conference at Conway Hall at which she spoke (and before the ASA ruling discussed above), will be featured in the next episode of the Skepticule Extra podcast.