An advertising watchdog has banned a newspaper ad – run by a Belfast, Ireland, church – condemning homosexuality. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the ad was offensive and indecent.
Sandown Free Presbyterian Church ran a full page ad entitled "The Word of God against Sodomy" in the Belfast Newsletter to coincide with Belfast's Gay Pride parade.
The ad states that homosexuality is an "abomination" and warns of "God's judgment upon a sin." It also says that it is "a cause for regret that a section of the community desire[s] to be known for a perverted form of sexuality."
The church said it had been "obliged under God to publicly challenge the vices of this generation."
The Belfast Newsletter said that not publishing the ad would have been an "infringement of freedom of expression on a matter of public interest."
The Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints from seven members of the public who felt the ad was homophobic, ruling that it had "caused serious offense to some readers."
The ASA determined that the ad went "further than the majority of readers were likely to find acceptable," although the Rev. David McIlveen of Sandown church said there was no evidence of this.
It also rejected some complaints that the ad would incite hatred and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"The ad did not in itself incorporate language likely to incite a violent emotional response," the ASA ruled. But it went further to say the ad should not appear again in its current form.
McIlveen said ASA's ruling on this point was "a vindication of the true spirit in which the statement was formulated."
"However, we believe that the part of the adjudication in which the ASA upheld the complainants position shows a basic and fundamental ignorance of the teaching and application of God's Word on the subject of sodomy," he continued.
"By adjudicating on what is in effect the message of the bible on the code of decency is, in our opinion, the setting of a very dangerous precedent."
He also rejected ASA's ruling that the ad was indecent.
"Many thousands of people throughout the UK are in possession of scriptures that declare sodomy as an abomination, a perversion of sexuality and a sin before God.
"Therefore by determining that quotations of bible texts and their application have breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency), the ASA is taking the view that the printing and publishing of certain biblical texts is indecent."
He continued: "This is an offense to every bible believer. It is ironic that an authority that seeks to prevent others from being offended appears to have no scruples in offending those who hold to the plain teaching of the word of God."
McIlveen said it would not heed ASA's recommendation that it seek advice from its copy team before publishing material in the future.
"We see as an unwarranted interference into church affairs. It is totally unacceptable for any church to look to an outside body for their approval to print gospel tracts that are based on the word of God. This we cannot and will not do."