On the Buses

News today that Core Issues are seeking a judicial review after Stonewall and Transport for London appear to flout a recent high court ruling.

London Bus Adverts - Gay and ExGayA traditionalist Christian group has lodged papers at the High Court attempting to force Transport for London to take down hundreds of new billboards on double-decker buses telling people who disapprove of homosexuality to “get over it”.

It claims that transport chiefs are deliberately ignoring a ruling by a High Court judge that the posters, from the gay rights group Stonewall, are “highly offensive to fundamentalist Christians” who believe that gay sex is a “sin”.

Core Issues Trust, a Christian counselling group which advocates controversial “reorientation” therapy, booked advertising space on London buses last year promoting the idea that people can become “post-gay” through therapy.

The posters were modelled on advertisements taken out by Stonewall a few weeks earlier reading: “Some people are Gay. Get over it!”

The Christian group’s proposed advertisements were to read: “Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get Over It!”

The Mayor stepped in and banned them saying it was “clearly offensive” to suggest that being gay is an “illness”.

The decision led to a legal challenge. In her judgment Mrs Justice Lang ruled that Mr Johnson had not abused his position by banning the adverts but went on to question the decision to allow the earlier Stonewall advertisements as well.

TfL’s decision to allow one advertisement but not the other was “was inconsistent and partial”, she ruled. The outcome of an appeal is due later this year.

But similar Stonewall advertisements have begun to reappear on buses across London as part of a new campaign.

Dr Michael Davidson, founder and Core Issues Trust, is lodging an urgent judicial review application seeking an injunction forcing TfL to take the new advertisements down.

“I feel that Stonewall and the Defendant are deliberately flouting the rulings of the court by renewing their advertisement campaign on buses which was clearly prohibited by the earlier judgment of Mrs Justice Lang,” his application says.

“Until such time when we have the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the Defendant should not have allowed Stonewall’s advertisement to reappear on their buses.”

Andrea Williams director of the Christian Legal centre, which is supporting the challenge, said: “Both Stonewall and Transport for London have acted in flagrant disregard for the judgment of Mrs Justice Lang.

“This provokes and goads the legal process because its decision on the matter is due at the beginning of December.”

A spokesman for TfL said: “These ads are in line with our advertising policy.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “It does seem a tragedy that these people who make so much noise about being Christian don’t spend a little more of their money on tackling polio or Third World poverty but a lot of money on slightly frivolous legal actions.”

This is fascinating, coming on the back of the news that the British Psychodrama Association has removed membership from Mike Davidson in what looks like a pretty flaky disciplinary process. You can see an interesting presentation here on how the UKCP seriously misquote the references they rely on for their ethical stance.

Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Christian Legal Centre has said,

Andrea Minichiello WilliamsStonewall’s actions show a blatant disregard for the law. The High Court’s judgment in March was clear that Stonewall’s adverts were offensive and should not be displayed on the buses. To then go and put them on buses again before the Master of the Rolls has settled the matter is provocative and shows that Stonewall thinks it is above and beyond the law.

Stonewall has a track record of using the law and the decisions of the courts to push its own agenda. But when a court makes a decision which is not to Stonewall’s liking, as in this case, it ploughs on regardless with its agenda, showing contempt for the rule of law in the process.

TfL has  aided and abetted Stonewall in this. TfL was also aware of the ruling that the adverts did not comply with its own guidelines and yet allowed them on buses for a second time.

In the face of Stonewall’s provocative actions we have decided to take this step and seek a judicial review and injunction.

Here’s the relevant section of the original ruling on Core Issues vs TfL.

131. In order to give effect to the primary right of freedom of expression in a democratic society, those who wish to promote an offensive or controversial message should be entitled to do so. In my view, it is proportionate to ask those people to express those views in a way other than by advertising on buses in a major city. Posters, leaflets, articles, meetings and the internet all provide an alternative vehicle for expression of these views.
132. An advertisement may raise an issue of legitimate public interest. But the location of these advertisements means that the message can only be a brief one, capable of being read as the bus passes by. The advertisements by the Trust, Stonewall and the British Humanist Association were all skilfully designed to deliver a short, sharp shock to the public. Their wording was confrontational. The alternative modes of expression – articles, leaflets, the internet – enable a reasoned case to be made instead. The case law of the ECtHR shows that reasoned debate is likely to be more deserving of protection under Article 10 than slogans and abusive messages.
133. I do not accept the submission that because the advertising space is sold on a commercial basis, there is a “right to buy” and there should be no restriction on content. This is not consistent with the case law under Article 10, which is concerned with the expression of views wherever they appear.
134. The Trust’s secondary submission was that TfL applied its Advertising Policy in an inconsistent and partial manner. It had permitted advertising on controversial and sensitive topics such as atheism and homosexuality, thus causing offence to many Christians, but then prevented Christians from responding with their views.
135. I consider that there is force in the Trust’s submission. The advertisements by the British Humanist Association and Stonewall did not comply with TfL’s own restrictions which prohibit advertisements “likely to cause widespread or serious offence” or which “relate to matters of public controversy or sensitivity”. Both advertisements were in the form of confrontational assertions which made no contribution to a reasoned debate. The British Humanist Association advertisement was highly offensive to the religious beliefs of the significant section of the public who believe in God. The Stonewall advertisement was highly offensive to fundamentalist Christians and other religious groups whose religious belief is that homosexuality is contrary to God’s teachings.
136. TfL sought to justify the Stonewall advertisement on the grounds that it furthered TfL’s objectives under section 149, Equality Act, but declined to provide any detail about the basis of the decision. I doubt whether this confrontational advertisement did anything to “tackle prejudice” or “promote understanding” among homophobic people. It was more likely to spark retaliation, as indeed it did in the case of Anglican Mainstream and the Trust.
137. In the light of the evidence and submissions, I make the proportionality assessment under Article 10(2) on the basis that TfL’s decision to exclude the Trust’s advertisement was inconsistent and partial, in the light of its willingness to display the British Humanist Association and Stonewall advertisements. Furthermore, it denied the Trust the opportunity to respond to the Stonewall advertisement, in what the Trust described as “the right to counter”. These are important factors in favour of allowing the Trust to express its views in this particular medium.

So the judge criticises the decision of TfL to let Stonewall advertise but not Core Issues, but doesn’t actually specifically say they can’t show the Stonewall advert again. I suspect a request for an initial judicial review will fail, but a separate court case specifically arguing that TfL are ignoring their own criteria would succeed.

Finally, Stephen Fry was on TV on the BBC chatting to Joseph Nicolosi (of NARTH). It’s a fascinating ten minutes.

Now, I’m on record criticising the attempt by some to impose a particular psycho-dynamic model on all male homosexuals, but the last minute or so of this clip are revealing. Stephen Fry admits to having the basic family relationships that Nicolosi argues leads to homosexuality. The excuse Fry gives that his brother isn’t gay is of course nonsense – we know that the same events affect different people differently, that individuals have different ways of coping with emotional events in their lives that are sometimes biologically based and sometimes coping mechanisms developed over time.

Lots to ponder on…