Last month the advertising censors at the ASA banned a christian group, Healing on the Streets - Bath, from making nonsense claims about their healing services.
They censured a leaflet which stated:
NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!
Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness?
We'd love to
pray for your healing right now! We're Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.
Now MPs from the Christians in Parliament group are challenging
the ASA decision. Gary Streeter (Con), Gavin Shuker (Lab) and Tim Farron (Lib Dem), have written to Chris Smith, Chairman of the Advertising Standards Agency:
We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in
Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.
We write to express our concern
at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our
own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.
On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?
You might be interested to know that I
(Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that?
I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.
It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse
of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?
We invite your detailed response to this
letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.
It seems that the Lib Dems were not impressed by their MP, Tim Farron, signing the letter.
Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron has now apologised for the wording of a letter which called for a ban on adverts that claimed God could heal sick
people to be overturned, but stood by his belief that prayer could help.
Following the publication of the letter Farron apologised to Liberal Democrat members, many of whom disagreed with his decision to sign the letter. In a post on the
grass-roots Liberal Democrat Voice website, Farron said it was not a well-worded and that he should not have signed it as it was written . He said:
The reference to the ASA providing indisputable evidence
is silly, and the implication that people should seek faith healing at the expense of medical intervention is something that I just don't believe in
For what it's worth, I also think that the Fabrice Muamba reference is crass. So
on all those fronts, I should just say sorry and not bother defending myself. I shouldn't have signed that letter as it was written, so I apologise for putting some of you in quite a difficult position.
Ofcom have fined Light Academy Ltd £ 25,000 in respect of claims made by its Believe TV channel.
Ofcom decided that the programmes on Believe TV:
Paul Lewis Ministries, December 2010
Pastor Alex Omokudu Healing Ministry Testimonies, December 2010 - February 2011
Bishop Climate Irungu Ministries, January 2011
Rule 2.1: Generally accepted standards must be applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material .
Rule 4.6: Religious programmes must not improperly exploit any susceptibilities of the audience .
Ofcom considered only the breaches of Rules 2.1 and 4.6 to be so serious as to warrant consideration of a statutory sanction. In addition, Ofcom considered the Code Breaches to be repeated because they happened repeatedly over a period of several
Ofcom have previously highlighted a number of examples of broadcast material which had the potential for harm in breach of Rule 2.1, because some viewers with serious illnesses, especially more vulnerable ones, may not seek, or abandon
existing, conventional medical treatment on the basis of what they have seen on Believe TV.
For example, Ofcom noted examples:
Paul Lewis, in the programmes Paul Lewis Ministries broadcast on 21 December 2010 and 22 December 2010, preaching directly to camera and providing 'healing' direct to individuals through the use of his 'Miracle Olive Oil Soap'; and
Bishop Climate Irungu, in the programmes Bishop Climate Irungu Ministries, broadcast on 4 January 2011, providing testimony of 'healing' direct to camera; and
'testimonies' of congregation members (supported by statements by
Pastor Alex Omokudu), which clearly encouraged viewers to believe that the healing or treatment of very serious illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, and heart problems could be achieved exclusively through healing provided by being anointed with a
product such as olive oil soap, Ribena or oil.
Ofcom also considered whether to revoke the licence for believe TV but decided that this would not be proportionate.
A website and a leaflet, for Healing on the Streets - Bath, viewed on 10 May 2011:
a. The website home page stated Our vision is to :- Promote Christian Healing as a daily life style for every believer, through
demonstration, training and equipping. We are working in unity, from numerous churches outside the four walls of the building, In order to :- - Heal the sick ... .
A page headed What people have told us afterwards ... included five testimonials in which people stated that after receiving prayer their conditions had been improved.
b. The leaflet was available for download on the website under the heading Download a healing flyer by clicking below . The leaflet stated NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS,
Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We'd love to pray for your healing right now! We're Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the
name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness . Issue
A complainant challenged whether:
the claim in ad (b) that the advertiser could heal the named conditions was misleading and could be substantiated;
the testimonials in ad (a) misleadingly implied that the advertiser could heal the
conditions referred to; and
the ads were irresponsible, because they provided false hope to those suffering from the named conditions.
The ASA challenged whether the ads could discourage essential
treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
ASA Assessment: Complaints Upheld
1., 2. & 3. Upheld
The ASA acknowledged that HOTS sought to promote their faith and the hope for physical healing by God through the claims in
their ads. However, we were concerned that the prominent references in ad (b) to healing and the statement You have nothing to lose, except your sickness in combination with the references to medical conditions for which medical supervision should
be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, could give consumers the expectation that, by receiving prayer from HOTS volunteers, they would be healed of the conditions listed or other sicknesses from which they
suffered. We also considered that the testimonials in ad (a) could also give consumers that expectation, and furthermore, noted that a video on the website also made claims that HOTS volunteers had successfully prayed for healing for people with cancer,
fibromyalgia, back pain, kidney pain, hip pain, cataracts, arthritis and paralysis. We noted the testimonials on the website and in the video but considered that testimonials were insufficient as evidence for claims of healing. We therefore concluded the
ads were misleading.
We acknowledged that HOTS volunteers believed that prayer could treat illness and medical conditions, and that therefore the ads did not promote false hope. However, we noted we had not seen evidence that
people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers, and concluded that the ads could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.
We acknowledged that HOTS had
offered to make amendments to the ads, and to remove the leaflet from their website. However, we considered that their suggested amendments were not sufficient for the ads to comply with the CAP Code.
On these points, ads (a) and
(b) breached CAP Code rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 3.1 and 3.6 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials), 12.1 and 12.6 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
We understood that HOTS volunteers were instructed to give a letter to the recipients of prayer which told them they should not stop taking their medication or following the advice of medical
professionals. We also noted their offer to add a prominent reference along the lines of that letter to their website. However, we considered that, because both the leaflet and the website made claims that through the prayer offered by HOTS volunteers
people could be healed of specific medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, the ads could discourage people, and particularly the vulnerable or those suffering
from undiagnosed symptoms, from seeking essential treatment for medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. We concluded the ad breached the Code.
On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code rule 12.2
(Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products). Action
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told HOTS not to make claims which stated or implied that, by receiving prayer from their
volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions. We also told them not to refer in their ads to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
We are disappointed with the ASA's decision, and will appeal against it because 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.
The ASA has even demanded that we sign a document agreeing not to say this, which is unacceptable to us - as it no doubt would be for anyone ordered not
to make certain statements about their conventional religious or philosophical beliefs.
All over the world as part of their normal Christian life, Christians believe in, pray for and experience God's healing; our ministry, in
common with many churches, has been active in praying for God's healing (of Christians and non Christians) for many years.
Over that time the response to what we do has been overwhelmingly positive, and we find it difficult to
understand the ASA's attempt to restrict communication about this. Our website simply states our beliefs and describes some of our experiences.
We tried to reach a compromise, recognising some of the ASA's concerns, but there are
certain things that we cannot agree to -- including a ban on expressing our beliefs.