Tuesday 7 February 2012

The claims of religious faith are not exempt

The HOTS Bath advertising nonsense seems to have shaken out those wedded to religious privilege. Hayley Stevens has done us all a favour in highlighting it with her ASA complaint.

Brendan O'Neill at the Telegraph seems to be one of the more belligerent fulminators against the ASA's ruling:
This is an outrageous attack on freedom of religion, on the basic right of people to express central tenets of their faith.
Central tenets such as, for instance, homosexuality is an abomination? Or those who don't believe in Jesus/God are destined for "eternal conscious torment"? Or that contraception is an evil worse than AIDS? Granted, these aren't exactly touted around as attractive propositions you might want to try out on the streets around Bath Abbey, but they are as without factual basis as anything promoted by snake-oil salesmen.

You have a recently deceased relative? A central tenet of some religious faith is that God can bring a dead person back to life. Should we allow a religious group to make such a specific claim on the streets of Bath, or anywhere else for that matter? We should not. But by law we must. The ASA covers published advertising only, so any oral claims of resurrection made on the streets are beyond its remit. But apparently HOTS Bath did claim, in their leaflets and on their website, that serious illness can be alleviated by prayer. This is a medical claim, and they provide no acceptable evidence to support it. The ASA was right, therefore, to put a stop to it.

O'Neill is simply illustrating the undeserved privilege religious faith has enjoyed for so long — a privilege built into UK political culture — and which religion in general will try to hang on to for as long as it can.

Elsewhere in the Telegraph Tom Chivers gives the side of sanity:
This isn't an outrageous attack on religion. People are still allowed to believe, and state that they believe, in obvious nonsense like faith healing. But advertising laws can't be redrawn just because someone decides their product is religious; if they make actual empirical medical claims, then they need to be able to provide actual empirical medical evidence.
Personally I'd like to see some actual empirical evidence for religious faith's other claims too.

(Via HumanistLife.)