BELFAST, Ireland, March 22, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Irish High Court today overturned a decision by the Belfast Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that banned a Belfast Christian church’s ad on account of “homophobia.”
The ad, published by Sandown Free Presbyterian Church in August 2008, was banned by the ASA for stating that sodomy is a “grave offense” to Christians and quoting such Biblical passages as Leviticus 18:22. The church’s full-page ad was published immediately prior to a gay pride march and in response to the previous year’s march, in which a banner was carried that said, “Jesus is a fag.”
The ASA said the ad was “forceful, confrontational, and threatening to a section of the community.” After receiving seven complaints that the ad was homophobic, the ASA determined the church could not advertise in that form.
Sandown church challenged the ban in September 2009 and today won their case.
In his ruling on the case, High Court Justice Treacy said the context of the ad was important in considering the verdict. “The advertisement did not condone and was not likely to provoke violence, [it] contained no exhortation to other improper or illegal activity, [and] constituted a genuine attempt to stand up for their religious beliefs and to encourage others to similarly bear witness,” said Justice Treacy.
“Whilst such views and scriptural references may be strongly disdained and considered seriously offensive by some, this does not justify the full scope of the restrictions contained in the impugned determination,” the judge added.
Sandown church had argued that the ASA misinterpreted the quote from Leviticus 18:22 (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination”). The church said they distinguish between the homosexual individual and the sexual act of sodomy in their condemnation, only condemning the latter.
Their ad urged those involved in sinful conduct to convert, saying “the gospel is purifying, positive and precious” and that “the gospel of redeeming grace can change a persons life by making them a new creature in the beloved Lord Jesus Christ.”
Justice Treacy said, “The applicant’s religious views and the Biblical scripture which underpins those views no doubt cause offence, even serious offence, to those of a certain sexual orientation. Likewise, the practice of homosexuality may have a similar effect on those of a particular religious faith. But Article 10 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) protects expressive rights which offend, shock or disturb.”
“Moreover, Article 10 protects not only the content and substance of information but also the means of dissemination since any restriction on the means necessarily interferes with the right to receive and impart information.”
“This is a landmark now for future decisions,” said Reverend David McIlveen, minister of Sandown Free Presbyterian Church. “People can quote the Bible and that’s a freedom that we have sought.”