All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

London Ex-Gay Ad Fiasco - Back Again

The prosed ad campaign.

Today Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, today is being taken to court over a decision made last May concerning ads that were to be posted on buses in London. Maybe some of you heard about this or were following the turn of events back then. If not and you want a rundown on what was happening you can see a story on it here and here.

The decision to not allow the advertisement to run on the London buses is being challenged as an infringement on the group's free speech. Specifically they are calling it a 'stifling' of their free speech, and a worrisome turn towards 'reverse discrimination'.
 Lets look at some of the facts before we address whether or not there is a legitimate claim. The advert was proposed and backed by two Christian groups - the Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream. The advertisement was meant  to be used to promote ex-gay therapy. The ad read as follows, "Not Gay! Ex-gay, Post-gay and Proud. Get over it!" This was meant to be a parodie of the already running (and still running) ad, "Some people are gay. Get over it!" run by the activist group Stonewall in support of marriage equality.

Now lets look at the actual claims being made to bring this to court. Dr Mike Davidson of the Core Issues Trust will appear in the court today to argue that the ad should have been allowed to run. Davidson claims to have benefited from ex-gay therapy and says, "It was a mistake to assume these views we were expressing came from entrenched homophobia, and failed to recognize that people who want to walk away from their homosexual feelings are a group in their own right."
Stonewall's ad on a London Bus

In addition to Dr. Davidson, Christian Legal Centre's Andrea Williams promotes the idea that this is turning into a case of 'reverse discrimination' and calls upon the Mayor to acknowledge that his decision was a mistake.

As a claim against free speech, this falls under the UK's Human Rights Act of 1998 (being that Transport for London is almost certainly a 'public authority') and would fall under Section 12 - the freedom of expression. The Act states:

The court must have particular regard to the importance of the Convention right to freedom of expression and, where the proceedings relate to material which the respondent claims, or which appears to the court, to be journalistic, literary or artistic material (or to conduct connected with such material), to -
            (a)the extent to which—
                  (i)the material has, or is about to, become available to the public; or 
                  (ii)it is, or would be, in the public interest for the material to be published;

The Convention reference in the Act above is the European Convention on Human Rights, and this case specifically will be in reference to Article 10 of the Convention. Article 10 deals with the Freedom of Expression. The Convention states this: 

Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right 
shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart 
information and ideas without interference by public authority 
and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States 
from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema 
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it 
duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, 
conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and 
are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national 
security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention 
of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for 
the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing 
the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for 
maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Using these as the foundation for a case it seems to me that there is a slight problem with the case being made by Dr. Davidson and Ms. Williams. In order for their speech to be protected it needs to be established that the speech does not go against the protection of health or morals, and that it is/would be in the publics interest to publish the ad.

This will be difficult I think for them as the Mayor has already publicly stated that the morals of the city are ones of tolerance. Dr. Davidson claims that his group's ad and message does not go against that morale but I would beg to differ. How is it tolerant to advertise that a group of people is sick or should be healed? Especially considering that there is no medical or scientific evidence to support such a claim? The message sent by running an ad is such that homosexuality is something that can be 'fixed' which itself implies that its a problem or a disorder. This claim is made by a lot of Christians and holds now water.

It needs to be shown that the ad was aimed at encouraging people to participate in conversion therapy for this argument to stand. I refer you to this article where the organization states "promotion of homosexual practices to children and young people, many of whom are known to experience ambivalence as they sort through issues of sexual identity, is misleading and dangerous...married men and women unhappy with their homosexuality should be supported in developing their heterosexual potential, where this is the appropriate life choice for them." - This seems to me to show a direct desire to encourage those who are unhappy with their homosexuality to become straight. Isn't it interesting though how the same people will howl and complain that homosexuals shouldn't 'encourage others to be homosexual'? Ugh hypocrisy.

To further address this it also seems to go against the protection of people's health. The UK government has come out in opposition of gay conversion therapy (as seen here). Health Minister to the UK, Norman Lamb has stated, "The Department of Health does not condone the concept of therapists offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. There is no evidence that this sort of treatment is beneficial and indeed it may well cause significant harm, to some patients...If someone is suffering a mental health problem, clinicians will try to help patients with whatever is causing them distress. This could involve helping someone come to terms with their sexuality, family arguments over their sexuality, or hostility from other people." So again it seems to go directly against what would make it considered protected speech.

Considering all of the above I think its not a far stretch to come to the conclusion that the ad is not in the publics best interests. 

It is important to consider the possibility that Transport for London may not be considered a public authority. If this is the case then all of the above goes out the window. If not considered a public authority this goes to the common law, as free speech is protected in English common law. However even then this seems to be a losing battle for the Christian groups. The common law has restrictions set up to free speech, and specifically has some restrictions on commercial speech and advertisement.

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