The High Court has today ruled that Transport for London (TfL) was acting lawfully in banning a proposed bus advert by the Core Issues Trust because it would “cause grave offence” to those who were gay. The court ruled that the mayor of London Boris Johnson did not abuse his position as chairman of TfL when he imposed the ban. The British Humanist Association has welcomed the decision but questioned the claim of the court that the BHA’s Atheist Bus Campaign adverts were comparably offensive.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said, ‘Everything offends someone somewhere but when an English judge is moved to deem our mild and humorous Atheist Bus Campaign as “offensive” then the law is clearly setting the bar of offence ludicrously low. The court said our statement that there is probably no god will have offended people who believe the opposite. That assumes that people are automatically offended by others saying things they don’t believe themselves. But this isn’t offence – it’s disagreement – and trying to suppress it in the public sphere is inimical to the maintenance of a free society. There are good reasons to ban some adverts but offence is not one of them.’
Elaborating on what might be a good reason to ban an advert, Mr Copson said, ‘A good reason is if an advert makes false claims which are dangerous to the health of the public, such as that homosexuality is a condition which can be cured or that people with life threatening diseases should pray instead of taking medicine – both claims that have been made in adverts which have rightly been banned. The right reason for the Mayor of London to ban the anti-gay bus adverts was that they conveyed a false impression of sexual orientation which lacks any foundation in fact and has been condemned by the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as well as in a recent judgement by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.’
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The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.