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08 March 2012

Healing on the Streets advertising appeal

Over the last few weeks, Healing On The Streets (HOTS) based in Bath has been thrust into media headlines after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued a ruling against their website and downloadable leaflet in which they state that God can heal, physically as well as emotionally and spiritually.

The actual edict from the ASA reads:

The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told HOTS not to make claims which stated or implied that, by receiving prayer from their volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions. We also told them not to refer in their ads to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.

The Evangelical Alliance has been supportive of the HOTS ministry throughout the UK. We have also been working hard over the last four years in discussions with the ASA to get them to understand the particular nature of the Christian faith and Christian healing in particular. Despite these efforts, the ASA views faith healing in the same context as pharmaceutical products and beauty therapies, which require a high level of scientific proof for healing claims.

The Alliance has supported several member churches that have in recent years fallen foul of the ASA guidelines and has a strong interest in seeking to help churches to better understand and interpret the complex codes when advertising healing, includ­ing events where prayer for healing is offered and testimonies relating to healing are given. As churches, we need to be responsible about how we advertise, par­ticularly if vulnerable people may be involved. In liaison with the ASA the Alliance has been seeking to produce some agreed guidelines to help churches when advertising, highlighting areas that have proved problematic and indicating how to avoid breaking the guidelines.

The ASA has refused to budge from its insistence that any public advertising of the historic Christian belief that God is able to heal people physically must be prohibited. The only form of healing the ASA is willing to countenance is what they describe as ‘spiritual healing’. We presented our case (accompanied by legal experts) to the ASA that not only was their attitude unfair and uncomprehending of orthodox Christianity, but that it was probably illegal. In particular, we argued that the attitude of the ASA could be not only in breach of Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights relating to freedom of belief and speech but they may also be discriminating on grounds of religion and belief. A recent case in the Northern Ireland High Court has confirmed this view. Whether the ASA is acting illegally or not, it is to be regretted that the ASA ultimately refused to work with the Alliance to find an acceptable way forward that met the concerns of both sides.

The reality is that the ASA has little legal power to enforce such a rule, though they could try to make life difficult for local churches. HOTS Bath has appealed against the ASA decision, though based on previous experience a positive outcome is doubtful.

The trustees of HOTS Bath have decided to stand their ground in their belief that God can heal physically and to wait for the result of the appeal. The ruling does not prevent HOTS from going out on the streets and praying for healing and they are already doing just that.

HOTS Bath are asking Christians to support them by

  • praying for a godly outcome to the appeal process
  • signing the e–petition that has been started up on their behalf aimed at gaining a discussion on the topic in the House of Commons
  • promoting the e–petition in churches and among networks.

The petition can be accessed at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29011

You can read more about HOTS Bath at www.hotsbath.org