New Zealand Board Rules Against Church For False Advertising A Meeting With Faith Healing

1024px-Eustache_Le_Sueur_003There is an interesting complaint that has been filed against a church in New Zealand that touches on an issue that we previously discussed. In the United States, it is common for religious figures to claim to faith heal and recently we have seen some religious business suggest that they have divinely inspired products or services to sell. We have discussed whether such pitches constitute false advertising. Now the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is the subject of a formal complaint for advertising a prayer session to heal health problems including “incurable diseases.”

The Church put out an advertisement that “For people who suffer with constant pain, deteriorating health, can’t work due to illness, incurable disease, doctors don’t know what’s wrong, dependent on pills, recovering from injury, weight problems, sick children.” That did not sit well with Mark Hanna of the Society for Science Based Healthcare who complained that the advertisement is in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principles 2 and 3 that govern the supply of health services.

The Church has responded that it does not provide therapeutic, medical or health services or services but rather simple good old fashioned prayer meetings.

What is different is that in this complaint, the Board upheld the charges and found that the church had presented its religious beliefs in faith healing as an absolute fact and that “it may mislead and deceive vulnerable people who may be suffering from any of the illnesses listed in the advertisement.”

The board previously upheld a similar complaint against the church for an advertisement for olive oil as part of a religious cure-all treatment for everything from tumours and schizophrenia to relationship problems.

It is difficult line to draw between protestations of faith and false advertising. Some would challenge the very essence of prayer as falsely advertising that God will answer such requests for benefits great or small. How does one draw that line? Conversely, I previously discussed the double standard applied to fortune tellers who must give a disclosure and warning to customers that they are not really telling fortunes, even though many clearly believe that they are.

However, unlike fortune tellers (which at most have been accused of taking money under false pretenses or delusions), the American Cancer Society has warned that faith healing has killed people who could have been saved by modern medicine:

… available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.

In addition, at least one study has suggested that adult Christian Scientists, who generally use prayer rather than medical care, have a higher death rate than other people of the same age.[3]

However, virtually all major religions have some faith healing passages or beliefs. Many believe that such powers are true and proven. How does one distinguish such protestations of faith from false advertising, particularly when no money is demanded to attend?

Source: NZ Herald

34 thoughts on “New Zealand Board Rules Against Church For False Advertising A Meeting With Faith Healing”

  1. Karen S.:

    You asked an excellent question. I wish there were an excellent answer, but there isn’t. This case involves the intersection of freedom of religion and quasi-commercial speech. I say “quasi-commercial” because the solicitation of money is always incorporated into faith-healing services. Although the payment of money is not a condition to attending such services, there is clearly an expectation that attendees will be motivated to donate because of their belief in the power of prayer to produce medical miracles, and in the status of the faith-healer as a legitimate instrument of God.

    There are serious impediments to the successful prosecution of a fraud claim against a faith healer, and they relate to the elements that must be proven. One is that a person who makes a false representation of fact must either know that the representation is false or be heedless of its veracity. And as Justice Alito has just reminded us, a religious belief can be sincerely held even if it is based on false science. Secondly, a victim of fraud must be able to establish that his or her reliance on the false representation was reasonable. But how can one reasonably rely on assurances that a supernatural intervention will occur if one merely has sufficient faith in its occurrence?

    There are always exceptions, of course. One can always imagine a situation in which a terminally ill person will be induced to part with large sums of money in reliance upon promises by a faith healer that a cure is certain to follow. But that sort of situation would imply a personal relationship in which the faith healer has taken advantage of the victim’s desperation to create genuine trust. In that instance, the faith healer would actually be assuming the duties of a fiduciary with respect to the victim.

  2. Paul wrote “God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no.”

    Then God is an arbitrary and capricious being totally unconcerned over the suffering of innocent people. Your definition of God reminds me of Satan, actually. People who sell their soul to evil, e.g. bankers, politicians, and dictators, do well, but people who are just trying to live ordinary lives do not.

    “I think God particularly hates North Koreans. South Koreans seem to be doing okay.”

    You must be a Calvinist. Actually almost all American Christians are Calvinists, believing as they do that Americans are God’s chosen few, instead of just being extraordinarily lucky with respect to birth location.

    1. Saucy – I am agnostic. My God does not answer any prayers, does not help with any tests, etc. My God is just the Uncaused Cause.

  3. Jill, you healed someone? Based on what, how do you know you healed this person? Very curious.

  4. saucy – I think God particularly hates North Koreans. South Koreans seem to be doing okay.

  5. Charlie wrote “He did intervene. Otherwise, those atrocities would never have ended.”

    We are talking about two hundred million deaths over the past 150 years or so. Wouldn’t God have been able to make his point with only one million Jews being killed in the Holocaust? Instead of tens of millions of deaths in the Great Leap Forward, 5-10 million would have sufficed, don’t you think?. Why did he ignore Catholic and Jewish Poles during WWII? Why hasn’t he slaughtered millions of people in the American Midwest to even things out?

    Is God guilty of extreme hyperbole? Arbitrary and capricious? Takes really long naps like Rip Van Winkle? Really bad with geography? Can’t count?

    I remember the story of a woman who was caught in 9/11. She was horribly burned by jet fuel and walked down from one of the WTC towers in extreme pain. She was interviewed later and said that God loves her. On the contrary, one could easily make the case that God hates her. True love would have resulted in her escaping with no injuries or killed outright and sent to her reward in Heaven.

    By the way, why hasn’t he intervened in North Korea where millions have died since the end of WWII? Does he hate Koreans? What’s the point of carrying on like that?

    1. saucy – God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no.

  6. If you make a claim that your treatment will be effective, it needs to be effective.

    Why not say that you don’t want people to stop medical treatment but you are also offering other services which may help them? Stating up front that the human condition contains death as a part of it, one could offer to try to cure disease through prayer or to offer solace.

    As an atheist, I have actually performed what the religious would call a “faith” healing. I have also worked with a Christian faith healer who did not keep people from dying but did offer them a lot of real love and emotional caring. I honor that sincerity of kindness and love which I saw in her.

    I know these cures can occur. I do not understand how they occur, why sometimes, and why not other times. I wish scientists would study this phenomena because it would be wonderful if we could understand and successfully repeat these types of healings.

    1. Jill – there is an interesting movie called Lourdes you might like watching. It is almost documentary in nature.

  7. Saucy – He did intervene. Otherwise, those atrocities would never have ended. And, of course, he wanted to mercifully intervene much sooner, but it was far more important to teach his flawed followers to have more faith in him so that such atrocities need never reoccur. Now repent of your sins and start being perfect before you cause WWIII.

  8. I do not know about the population problem in New Zealand but her in America we need diseases which will knock off people. So the religious schmucks are a good thing. Smoking is a good thing. They are both varieties of suicide. But suicide is seldom painless. Once in a great while I watch some of these prayer snakes on television on Sunday morning. Its that or that schmuck who used to work for Clinton. I shop early on Sunday to avoid those who leave church all sucked up and crowd the aisles. Last week there was one of those white reverse collar guys at the coin machine pouring in quarters. He paid the store or the machine a 9% fee. So when they pass the plate consider that your quarters will be in a machine within hours.

  9. Any group of people who mumble something about “God works in mysterious ways” when asked why he did not intervene in the Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, WWI, WWII, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Bolshevik purges, North Korea, etc., yet pray to him to win a reality show or professional sports contest, cannot be taken seriously. Religion should be 100% separate from law for this reason.

  10. These faith healers should remain within their scope of practice; exorcising demons and evil spirits.

    1. Darren – there are specialists within the church. Exorcists do the exorcisms, faith healers do the healing. Detectives don’t walk a beat.

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