Advertising watchdog has reintroduced the blasphemy law

In banning a mildly satirical advertisement for ice cream, the Advertising Standards Authority is reintroducing the blasphemy law into Britain, say secularists. Blasphemy law was abolished by Parliament three years ago.

The National Secular Society is now calling on the communications minister, Ed Vaizey, to institute an inquiry into the ASA’s decision, which it announced today.

The advertisement banned by the ASA for being potentially “offensive to Catholics”.

The advertisement for Antonio Federici ice cream shows two priests who appear to be on the verge of kissing, with the tag line “We Believe in Salivation”. On the basis of six complaints, the ASA has banned the advertisement as potentially “offensive to Catholics”. This is the second advertisement from the firm that the ASA has banned. A previous one showed a pregnant nun eating the ice cream with the tag: “Immaculately conceived”.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “It seems our celebrations about the end of the blasphemy law were premature. The Advertising Standards Agency – which is elected by no-one and seems to be answerable to no-one - has reinstated the law unilaterally. Anyone who has seen the Antonio Federici ads knows that they are mildly humorous, in no way threatening, abusive or insulting. It is entirely wrong that these advertisements have been banned by such an unaccountable body, which needs to be reined in.”

In the letter to Ed Vaizey, the NSS says:

“Although these advertisements were only meant to be mildly humorous or satirical, their banning represents something much more sinister. We have now reached the stage where any reference to religion that is not completely reverential is immediately branded as “offensive” and therefore unacceptable. This is an intolerable threat to freedom of expression that must be challenged.

“We ask that you instigate an enquiry into the ASA’s oversensitive approach to advertising with a religious theme. It is getting completely out of hand when something as mild and humorous as these ice cream advertisements is banned from public view on such spurious grounds.”

Read the ASA Adjudication on Antonio Federici in full