Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Church bids to overturn ban on anti-gay adverts

A Belfast Free Presbyterian Church has launched a High Court bid to overturn an advertising ban against proclaiming sodomy an abomination.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that a newspaper advert carried ahead of a Gay Pride parade in the city caused serious offence.

Its adjudication, upheld on appeal, was in response to seven complaints that the notice was homophobic.

The ASA's ruling followed a full-page advert in the News Letter in August 2008 headlined: “The word of God against sodomy”.

Lawyers for Sandown Free Presbyterian Church are seeking a judicial review by claiming the regulator's finding breached its rights to freedom of religion and expression.

Sandown’s minister is the Rev David McIlveen, a prominent figure in Free Presbyterianism.

John Larkin QC told the court the case centred on his client's ability to use the bible in its public witness teaching.

He claimed the ASA had made a “spectacular error” in its interpretation of a quotation from the Book of Leviticus which branded homosexual acts an abomination.

Mr Larkin argued that the description applied to sodomy itself rather than any individuals.

“The ‘A' word seems to be the trigger,” he told the court.

“The advert was not homophobic... nothing could be further from the truth.

“This is the classic evangelical position between loving the sinner and hating the sin.”

The barrister also resisted a suggestion that his client should consider a new form of words as a possible solution.

“We shouldn't have to take out the quotation from Leviticus. The sentence which seems to lie at the core of the ASA's adjudication couldn't be clearer,” he added.

According to Mr Larkin, the church was simply warning that “this is a pernicious activity, it will lead to perdition and you don't have to do it — with God's grace you can stop it”.

But Tony McGleenan, for the ASA, countered by pointing out the advert referred to supporters of homosexuality and “perverted forms of sexuality”.

He told the court: “What the proposed respondent says is that that language is forceful, confrontational and threatening to a section of the community.”

Dr McGleenan insisted there was no suggestion that biblical text could not be used in advertising. It was the way in which phrases were put together which caused difficulty, he said.

He added: “It has identified words such as ‘perverted forms of sexuality' which are likely to cause offence — no more, no less.

“It hasn't engaged in any philosophical analysis of this church's ideological position.”

The judge hearing the case, Mr Justice Weatherup, reserved his decision on whether to grant leave to seek a judicial review.

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