Sunday, 13 May 2012

More Christian persecution?

It seems that there is a growing tide of Christians complaining about being oppressed. This oppression is claimed to be coming from the state. We have recently seen the courts rule against Christians in a number of cases; the B&B who turned away same sex couples, the nurse and BA worker who each wanted to wear an outward symbol of their faith and the banning of prayers as part of official council business.

In addition to the courts, the Advertising Standards Authority have also incurred the wrath of Christians. I previously blogged about the Bristol group who falsely claimed prayer would cure Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness.

The latest ASA investigation to rile the Christian community concerns an advert by the Coalition for Marriage which appeared on the blog of right wing Christian Archbishop Cranmer. The advert consists of a series of wedding pictures followed by the words "I do" then "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" followed by an appeal to sign the coalition's petition.

Cranmer blogged about the investigation calling it persecution. Comments by supporters refer to it being harassment. Many suggest he tells the ASA to f*ck off. Others in solidarity have hosted the same advert on their own blogs and websites.

Is this investigation justified? At first glance there doesn't appear to be anything which would trouble the ASA. However, looking deeper it does appear that there is a case to answer. Cranmer helpfully lays out what rules may have been broken 'CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 4.1 (Harm and offence)’. The full text can be found here but the following extracts give the idea.

3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information.

3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation.

4.1 Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.
You may still be wondering how the advert might have broken the above rules. A clue is the in the small print to the "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" image. It says "Source ComRes poll for Catholic Voices". You can download that poll here.

The question, which got a 70% approval rating in the poll was "Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman"

My first issue is that marriage is not defined a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman. It is not life long. Married people can get divorced and if they choose may marry again. It is  not exclusive either. People who have affairs are still considered married.

The second issue is that the question covered only one definition. There could be others. Just because most people would agree 2+2= 4. It does not mean that they don't think 1+3=4 as well.

In stating that "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" the advert is relying on the answer to a question that did not give the correct definition of marriage and which did not ask whether marriage should be extended to same sex couples. I suspect there is a good reason why the obvious question was not asked. Other polls show a much higher support for same sex marriage than the 22% disagreeing with the Catholic Voices statement.

Seems to me that there is a case that the advert is misleading. I am not sure that 70% of people (or even 70% of those polled) do support the conclusion drawn. We will have to see whether it is misleading enough for the ASA to take action.

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