A Belfast church has been granted a judicial review on a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that its adverts were homophobic.
Sandown Free Presbyterian Church appealed the decision at the high court today. It placed the full-page advert in the Belfast News Letter last summer, ahead of Belfast Pride.
It contained verses from the Bible describing gay sex as an “abomination” and referred to “sodomy”.
The ASA ruled that the church’s advert, which called gay people perverts and called on “religious” people to publicly oppose gay rights and Pride events, broke their rules on decency. It said it had received seven complaints that the ads were homophobic.
After the ASA rejected the church’s appeal to have its adjudication overturned, the church appealed to the high court. Its lawyers argued that a judicial review is necessary because the regulator’s ruling breached its right to freedom of religion and expression.
John Larkin QC, for Sandown Free Presbyterian Church, said: “The advert was not homophobic . . . nothing could be further from the truth. This is the classic evangelical position between loving the sinner and hating the sin.”
He added that the church could not revise the words on its ads as the “biblically-based church” was “bound to proclaim the truth as they see it” and argued the ASA had misconstrued passages taken from Leviticus.
Speaking for the ASA, Tony McGleenan countered that the language used was “forceful, confrontational and threatening to a section of the community.”
Mr Justice Weatherup decided to grant a judicial review but said it would be preferable for the two parties to work together.
The original ASA ruling said: “We considered that some of the text used in relation to homosexuality, for example, ‘… declaring it to be an abomination …’, ‘… God’s judgement upon a sin …’, ‘… remove the guilt of their wrongdoing …’, ‘ … a cause for regret that a section of the community desire to be known for a perverted form of sexuality …’, went further than the majority of readers were likely to find acceptable.
“We considered that particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of sexual orientation, and concluded that this ad had caused serious offence to some readers.”