ASA Adjudicate on Flyer Complaint
In December 2010, a friend received a flyer through their door from a local church (which I covered previously). It told my friend that the truth could set them free, and gave examples of people being “healed” of severe food allergy, autism, death, “broken heart” and broken vertebra by prayer and baptism. I complained about it to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on three grounds:
- First, I felt that the claims of miraculous healing were unlikely, and that the advertiser would not be able to substantiate the claims if asked.
- Second, the advertisement was irresponsible because it might result in people not seeking medical care.
- Third, it was promoting the idea that attendance at a meeting of the church would result in people being cured of medical conditions.
The ASA (somewhat predictably) declined jurisdiction with regards claims of miracles. This is slightly frustrating from my point of view because they’re making a claim which is easily demonstrated. Either the person had a condition, had the faith intervention and no medical intervention and then didn’t have the condition – in which case a miracle occurred – or one of the criteria is not met and a miracle did not occur.
However, the ASA did consider and adjudicate on the other two issues, and I am pleased to report they found against the advertiser on both counts, and the advertisement is not allowed to appear again.
As a society, we believe it is unacceptable to abuse people emotionally, physically, sexually or by neglect, but it is also wrong to exploit people’s spiritual beliefs. If we do not want to see people being exploited, challenging adverts like this one helps make such behaviour less socially acceptable, and helps to protect the most vulnerable.
This is a step in the right direction: whilst we still cannot apparently challenge falsehoods, we can ensure that religious groups cannot encourage people to act in a way which will have no demonstrable health benefits.