A church billboard proclaiming “Jesus Heals Cancer” overstepped the line, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled yesterday in upholding a complaint.
Erected by the Equippers’ Church in Napier, it provoked an outcry from cancer survivors and locals alike.
The wording of the billboard was later changed but the ASA investigated numerous complaints and said while the church is a not-for-profit organisation, the billboard – providing information about service times – fit the definition of an advertisement.
It was found to be in breach of several elements of the authority's code of ethics, including a "due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society"; not making "false and misleading representation”; and not being "likely to cause serious or widespread offence”.
The board said while the church’s intention was to convey a message of hope, the statement was likely to cause serious offence to people who had been affected by, or known someone affected by, cancer.
Complainant J. Condin called the billboard "totally disrespectful and hurtful to those that have lost loved ones to cancer or are caring for loved ones with cancer and waiting for them to die".
As a mother of a three-year-old battling leukemia, she said it was "false advertising" and brought back memories of other loved ones she had lost to cancer.
"I believe that the billboard comes across as more of a fact rather than a message of belief and hope. This is dangerous and deceptive as it could potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable in their time of illness and sadness.
"The billboard is also intimidating to those who do not belong to the church or believe in religion. It is scaremongering, and religious bullying to those who are dealing with a horrible illness already."