There was an article posted on the Telegraph blog on Monday which highlighted the growing threat of religious freedom of speech in Britain.
It focuses on a decision last week by the Advertisement Standards Agency (ASA) to ban Christian organization Healing on the Streets, Bath from stating on its website or in printed leaflets that God heals.
The decision came after a complaint was made by an individual who was unhappy with the wording.
It is yet another example of how easily offended people of Britain are becoming when anything Christian related is said that they disagree with, and how little it is taking for a growing number of people to feel the need to make their complaint known to authorities who really shouldn’t have to deal with such petty concerns.
As one of the comments added to the Telegraph’s article points out, it could open the floodgates for a wave of similar complaints, should enough members of the public feel the need to push such trivial matters where simple disagreement is involved.
For example, how many movie trailers over the years have casually boasted to be the best movie of the year? Whatever such claims are based on, it goes without saying that not everyone will agree and that there will be some people who pay to watch the movie in question based on the promotional trailer only to be seriously unimpressed.
Adverts boasting of being the best product or best service are also permitted by advertising guidelines, provided that such claims can be substantiated.
So what is so offensive when a Christian charity include references to their beliefs in printed materials?
The complaint included a number of factors amongst which was that the “advertiser misleadingly implied that they could heal the conditions referred to” and that they were “irresponsible, because they provided false hope” to those suffering from the conditions specified on the leaflet.
Given the increasing number of complaints made in the UK by people who disagree with Christians proclaiming their beliefs publicly, which has led to several arrests, very few of which have ever led to further action being taken, it is more important than ever that organisations such as Healing on the Streets are wise in how they describe anything intended for a public audience.
As has been suggested, simply altering the statement in order to have read “We believe that God heals” may have prevented the complaint from being upheld.
But when there is a strongly held conviction that what is being said is true, why should there have to be any compromise?
In my own church, I’ve known of many people to have experienced healing after being prayed for, including some from long term illnesses or injuries. Not everyone does receive healing after prayer though, and it is one a mystery as to why that is the case. Though of those who do, the testimonies have often been too powerful to ignore.
But even amongst Christians who have the faith that praying for the sick can lead to healing, the practice is one which is taught to be carried out responsibly, and if medication is involved, the person should never be encouraged to stop taking it and it should only ever be a medical professional who advises on any changes in medication requirements.
All of this seems to have been made clear by Healing on the Streets, as the ASA themselves acknowledged, and it’s therefore difficult to understand how they have acted irresponsibly in what was said on the material they produced.
During a speech to an audience at Christ Church Oxford only seven weeks ago, David Cameron described Britain as a Christian country, adding that “we should not be afraid to say so”.
Sadly, it seems that while plenty can be used in adverts which would be considered to be strongly at odds with Christian beliefs, those responsible for regulating the nation’s advertisements don’t appear to share the Prime Minister’s sentiments when a complaint is made about a Christian charity stating a Christian belief.
So much for Cameron’s Christian country.