A mother fighting to save her three-year-old boy from leukaemia has won her complaint against a Hawke's Bay Church which claimed “Jesus Heals Cancer”.
In its deliberation issued yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against the Equippers Church, saying it breached three rules and one basic principle of the code of ethics.
Ms J Condin complained to advertising watchdogs about a billboard outside the church in Tamatea, Napier, saying she found its claims “offensive and upsetting.”
“I have a son battling cancer, a grandfather battling cancer, a friend battling cancer and have lost a grandmother to cancer," she said.
"I have also seen many children die from cancer during my son’s cancer journey and seeing this sign really makes my blood boil.”
In a further letter to the authority, Ms Condin branded the billboard: “Totally disrespectful and hurtful to those who have lost loved ones to cancer and are waiting for them to die.”
She had contacted the church, which told her the billboard was a message of belief and hope.
But the mother told the ASA this view was “dangerous and deceptive as it could potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable to their time of illness and sadness”.
In its deliberation, the authority noted duplicate complainants held similar views while others expressed concerns that the claim made in the billboard “could not be substantiated and the billboard may influence some cancer sufferers into stopping conventional medical treatment”.
The Equippers Church told the ASA it did not mean to cause offence with its billboard, which it later amended, saying its claims were a “message of hope and life in Jesus Christ”.
“Our belief is substantiated by the fact six people within our congregation have testified to Jesus healing them from cancer,” the church said.
It also replied that drugs do not offer the only cure from cancer and there are many unexplained recoveries.
The church also felt it could make its claims through freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as allowed under the Bill of Rights Act.
After some media coverage, it also claimed “overwhelming support” for its billboard, but decided to change the wording, removing “Cancer” so it now states: ”Jesus Heals Every Sickness & Every Disease - Matthew 4:23”.
In its deliberation, the authority accepted the church had not meant to cause offence, but the “Jesus Heals Cancer” statement was “expressed in a manner that denoted a strong absolute statement of fact when it more accurately may be expressed as a statement of belief”.
The ASA also believed the statement was also “provocative enough to be likely to cause serious offence to those people who were dealing with, or knew people who were dealing with cancer”.
Personal religious belief was also not enough to substantiate such an absolute claim, even if the church was the advertiser.
It also ruled that a tagline underneath the claim, saying “Church. But not as you know it”, had “the potential to cause confusion for some people as it could mean the Equippers Church was able to offer something that other churches could not”.
The authority's complaints board doubted people would forego cancer treatment based on the advert, but ruled that “the advertisement had neither been prepared nor displayed with the due sense of social responsibility required”.
With three rules and one basic principle breached, the complaint was upheld.
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