Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Bath Forum

Now here's a funny thing that I noticed in the press recently. 
There is an organisation local to me known as Healing On The Streets, or HOTS.  I have come across them a few times, setting up banners offering faith healing in the local city centre, and sending a delegation to a local Creation / evolution debate (ironically serving to undermine the Creationist, who was trying to argue that Intelligent Design is not a religious viewpoint).  They seem to include members of Bath City Church, based in the Bath Forum - hence the title of this post. 

It seems that they have been taken to the Advertising Standards Agency over claims made on their website and some of their fliers.  An article appeared on a local news website.  Under the headline 'It's official: God does heal say Advertising Standards Authority ruling', it reads in part:
A Christian group is to be allowed to claim that ‘God can heal’ following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday. 
But Healing on the Streets has been told it can only use the phrase on its website and cannot include it on printed material.


Speaking after the ruling, a spokesman for Healing on the Streets, which is based in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, welcomed the ruling and said the group would “continue to express our beliefs”. 
He said: “The revised adjudication does not apply to what is on our website, meaning we can continue to express our beliefs that God can and does heal, as well as providing information and testimonies explaining all about Healing on the Streets.

“HOTS Bath will continue to fulfil its commitment to demonstrate the love of God through healing of body, mind and spirit on the streets of Bath and elsewhere.”
A spokesman for the ASA confirmed: “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 ad could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.”
So how does that sound?  A win for the faith-healers?  A bit 50/50? 

Well, flick over to the actual verdict from the ASA

There were three points of complaint brought against HOTS.  The first of these was:  
the claim that the advertiser could heal the named conditions was misleading and could [not] be substantiated
and the second:
the ad was irresponsible, because it provided false hope to those suffering from the named conditions ['Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness' were mentioned in the leaflet] 
Ruling: 1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA acknowledged that HOTS sought to promote their faith and the hope for physical healing by God through the claims in the ad. However, we were concerned that the prominent references 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 could be healed of the conditions listed or other sicknesses from which they suffered. We concluded the ad was misleading.
Pretty clear-cut.  So it must be the third point that was the win for HOTS, right? 
The ASA challenged whether the ads could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.

Ruling: 3. Upheld
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. However, we considered that, because the leaflet 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 ad 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.
Erm, so hang on a moment.  What the ASA has actually ruled is that the advert is misleading, that claims of healing cannot be substantiated, that it breaches 'CAP Code rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 3.1 and 3.6 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 12.1 and 12.6 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).'  But the ASA has ruled that websites do not fall under its jurisdiction. 

So this is the great victory leading HOTS to claim that 'God can heal' - that misleading, unsubstantiated and socially irresponsible advertising is outside the remit of the ASA when placed on a website.  Colour me unimpressed. 

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