The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against a church billboard reading “Jesus Heals Cancer”.
The billboard was erected by the Equippers’ Church in Napier. As well as the primary statement, it also claimed six of the church’s parishioners had been cured of cancer by Jesus.
It instantly drew criticism from cancer survivors and members of the community, and sparked numerous complaints to the ASA. Although the wording of the billboard was changed in March, the ASA still investigated.
The Complaints Board agreed that while the church is a not-for-profit organisation, the billboard – which provided information about church service times – fit the definition of an advertisement.
As a result, the billboard was found to be in breach of Rules 2, 5 and 11 and Basic Principle 4 of the ASA Code of Ethics.
Basic Principle 4 states that advertisements “should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society”.
Rule 2, Truthful Presentation, says advertisements should not be “likely to deceive or mislead the consumer [or] make false and misleading representation”.
Rule 5, Offensiveness, says advertisements “should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence”.
Rule 11, Advocacy Advertising, says opinions in advocacy advertising “may be robust, [but] opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information”.
Complainants said the advertisement was “disrespectful and hurtful” to people who knew, or had known, someone suffering from cancer.
One complainant, whose son has leukaemia, said the billboard was “offensive and upsetting” and showed a lack of compassion.
The complainant was also concerned that while the church saw the billboard as “a statement of their beliefs and a message of hope” it appeared factual, and as a result could “potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable in their time of illness and sadness”.
“There is no problem with a religious institution believing what they want, but what they are doing here is making a claim that is not established by fact,” the complaint read.
The church responded to the complaint, saying it was “never our intention to create offence, division or contention in the community”, and maintained that the billboard was not in breach of the Code.
“Numerous Medical Journals around the world have also documented unexplained ‘healings’ of people who had earlier clearly presented with apparent cancer,” the church said.
The church also said that despite the complaints, public support for the billboard had been “overwhelming”, and the majority of people did not find the message offensive.
“We understand a portion of the community will have different opinions and as such we acknowledge that our statement may have caused some offence,” the church said.
“We decided to rename the Billboard so as not to divide our community. The new statement removes the emotive word ‘cancer’”.
In its deliberation, the Complaints Board said that while the church’s intention was to convey a message of hope, the statement was provocative enough – especially given its position on a public billboard – to be likely to cause serious offence to people who had been affected by, or known someone affected by, cancer.
When dealing when complainants’ concerns that the statement was untrue and unable to be proven, the Board agreed it “did not consider that personal religious belief was enough to substantiate such an absolute claim”.
The Board said that while it was “unlikely” that cancer sufferers would forgo conventional medical treatment because of the billboard, the advertisement “advertisement had neither been prepared nor displayed with the due sense of social responsibility required”.
source: newshub archive