I have been called evil, callous, and told I am attempting to censor people’s religious freedom because I named myself as the person who had made a complaint to the ASA about a group called ‘Healing on the Streets of Bath’ (HOTS) who were making baseless claims about healing health conditions. When the whole fiasco first flared up the HOTS group first blamed ‘a group generally opposed to Christianity’. It was later revealed in a direct email to me from the leader of the HOTS Bath group that they thought it was the ‘National Secular Society’ who had made the complaint because HOTS were Christian.
By the time he explained this to me though the papers had already labeled me as ‘Atheist Hayley Stevens’ and alluded to the idea that I’d made the complaint because of the religious beliefs of the people making the claim, rather than because of the nature of the claims being made because I was concerned for other peoples welfare. Which was the truth.
The story died down for a while but flared up again recently when three MP’s declared that they were willing to take the case to parliament if the ASA didn’t change it’s ruling, and they also stated that the ASA should prove that prayer isn’t effective at healing in what many have pointed out is a complete mockery of the burden of proof. When this story made the headlines yet again because of this, I was flooded with calls and emails from the media asking if I had anything to say. I had an opinion yes, but I refused to share it because I didn’t want to be called names by more Christian groups. It gets tiring after a while.
It proved to me though that most people had completely missed the point in this story. It wasn’t me who decided what HOTS should or should not do in their advertising, it was the ASA. I simply raised my concerns to the ASA and they were the ones who made the decisions. Yet the media have been very quick to paint the whole situation to seem as though I, an atheist, have used the ASA to censor some local Christians when this certainly is not the case at all. I had no hidden motive with my complaint. I was genuinely worried about people being misled, but I guess it isn’t possible to be caring and genuinely concerned about other people when you’re a Atheist who is challenging some Christians. It has to be about your non-belief because everything in this world is black or white. Right?
I have no power or hold over the ASA. I cannot influence them and the decisions they reach and so the media are portraying this in completely the wrong light. Not only because of who they are ‘blaming’, but also because they’re skimming over the fact that it wasn’t the religion of the HOTS members that was the cause of the complaint – just as it wasn’t me being an atheist that made make the complaint. It was the spurious health claims they were making that led to the complaint being made – just like the time I made a complaint about a ‘psychic surgeon’ who claimed to heal cancer and a whole list of other illnesses, the homeopath who was promoting her services with misleading claims on her website, or the people selling necklaces they claimed would boost your immune system.
I made those complaints – just as with the HOTS one – because the health related claims being made were misleading and potentially harmful, just as any non-evidence based claim is when it comes to the care for those with serious illnesses. It wasn’t because the homeopath, psychic, or the necklace seller was a certain religion, it wasn’t because the HOTS people were Christians, it was because in my opinion the claims being advertised were not evidence based.
It’s a shame that the media misconstrued the real reasoning behind my complaints to the ASA, but I guess that being a conscientious citizen who cares about those around them is headline grabbing enough. Or perhaps they simply didn’t believe that to be possible because, you know, atheists are evil.