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Church ad cleared of homophobia

23 March 2011

by Gregg Ryan Ireland Correspondent

A FREE Presbyterian Church at Sandown, Belfast, which condemned “sodomy” in a full-page advertisement just before the city’s Gay Pride march in August 2008, was cleared on Tuesday by a High Court judge. A complaint of homophobic behaviour had been brought by the Northern Ireland Advertising Standards Authority.

The advertisement in The Belfast Newsletter was headed “The word of God against sodomy”, and contained an invitation for peaceful gospel-witness in protest. Seven complaints were received by the ASA. The ASA ruled against the Church and warned against causing serious offence in future.

Mr Justice Treacy referred to a poster carried in the previous year’s parade which read “Jesus is a fag”. In his judgment he said: “The fact that the advertisement did not condone and was not likely to provoke violence, [and] contained no exhortation to other improper or illegal activity, constituted a genuine attempt to stand up for their religious beliefs and to encourage others to similarly bear witness.”

He said that the religious views and the scripture underpinning them could cause serious offence to those of a certain sexual orientation, but likewise the practice of homosexuality could have the same effect on those of a particular religious persuasion. He quoted the European Convention on Human Rights as protecting expressive rights “which offend, shock or disturb”.

The minister of Sandown Church, the Revd David McIlveen, called it a landmark ruling.

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