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Tuesday, March 27, 2012 

Well, at least it's not boring.

One of the few things that we can hopefully all agree on is that parliament should not be boring. It should also be representative. As an added bonus, it's also to be hoped that those sent there should be well informed, intellectually curious and dedicated to their constituents. Seeing though as this has always been the exception rather than the rule for hundreds of years, it's unlikely to change now.

If there is one thing to be said then for the letter to the Advertising Standards Agency from Gary Streeter, Gavin Shuker and Tim Farron, representing the Christians in Parliament grouping, questioning the ASA's ruling that a Bath-based church organisation cannot continue to claim that through their praying "God ... can heal you from any sickness", it's that it's entertaining. Defending faith healing is a minority pursuit these days, as well as potentially an embarrassing position to take, and so they should be congratulated on their honesty.

Other than that, it's a travesty. It almost seems as though they haven't even read the ASA's adjudication, which is about as clear as it gets from a quango. The ASA quite obviously hasn't ruled on whether or not God can heal people, as that is somewhat outside of their remit. The law on advertising is that the onus is on the advertiser to prove that their claims are true, rather than for the complainant to do so. The only evidence that Healing on the Streets - Bath provided were testimonials, which the ASA quite rightly dismissed as being insufficient. For Streeter to then provide his own personal account of how recurrent pain in his right hand disappeared after a church meeting and has never returned since more than suggests that he has missed this point rather substantially. Streeter goes on to say that all HOTS were doing was suggesting that prayer could heal, which is not quite the full truth - the leaflet downloaded from their website named specific conditions that they suggested could be healed by God as a result of their praying. The ASA accepted that it was their sincere belief that God can heal, simply that they hadn't provided the evidence to back it up.

For the three MPs to then ask that the ASA persuade them personally that they reached their ruling on the basis of "indisputable scientific evidence" is about as silly as it gets. Not quite as silly though as their invoking of Fabrice Muamba, or their asking whether the ASA intends to intervene. Seeing as no one has suggested that Muamba's recovery has been a result of prayer rather than quick medical intervention, unless of course Streeter and friends are claiming that, then the urging from some to "pray for Muamba" was less about religion than it was about hoping that he pulled through.

More amusing than the letter itself was the contortions Stephen Tall goes through in his attempt to justify Tim Farron's involvement on Lib Dem Voice. He cites free speech (irrelevant in this instance), that you cannot prove or disprove faith (true, but his statement that "there is simply no comparison between (for example) a cosmetics company’s claims and those of a faith-based organisation" is fallacious in the extreme) and regulation-creep, which ignores that there is and has been real harm done through claiming that prayer alone can heal. There isn't a problem with individuals claiming that prayer can heal, or indeed with Tim Farron signing letters that challenge quangos to account for themselves; it's when specific claims are made and specific illnesses are cited by groupings in their literature that it becomes problematic, something that is then exacerbated if MPs make fatuous objections to rulings it seems they haven't bothered to read. And the ability to read is one of those requirements that really should go with the job.

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