Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 13:56 UK

Church challenges sodomy ad ban

Gay Pride parade, Belfast
The advertisement ran ahead of last year's Gay Pride parade

A Belfast church has won the right to legally challenge a decision to ban a newspaper advertisement which described sodomy as an abomination.

Sandown Free Presbyterian Church took the full-page advertisement, which was headlined 'The word of God against sodomy', in the News letter.

It appeared in the paper once ahead of last year's Belfast Gay Pride parade.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority banned it from appearing again after receiving seven complaints.

The authority said the advertisement was homophobic.

On Friday, the High Court said there was an arguable case that the church's rights to religious belief and freedom of expression had been breached.

Mr Justice Weatherup also found that Sandown may have been denied the chance to offer an explanation to the Advertising Standards Authority before the ban was imposed.

"It would seem there's not a great deal of change required in the wording and tone, perhaps, in order to meet the objections made by the ASA," the judge said.

Lawyers for Sandown said the case centred on his client's ability to use the Bible in its public witness teaching.

They claimed the authority was mistaken in its interpretation of a quotation from the Book of Leviticus which described "homosexual acts an abomination".

They said the description applied to sodomy itself rather than any individuals.

"This is the classic evangelical position between loving the sinner and hating the sin," he argued.

The barrister also resisted the idea of his client considering a new form of words by stressing that it was a "biblically-based church, bound to proclaim what it believed to be the truth".

However, the agency's legal representatives said the advert was "forceful, confrontational and threatening to a section of the community".

Their barrister said there was no suggestion that biblical text could not be used in advertising.

It was phrases such as "perverted form of sexuality" which caused difficulty, he said.

A decision on how the case will be dealt with is expected later this month.

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