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Religious and spiritual healing

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

Rule 12.2 prohibits marketers from discouraging essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought (Emmanuel Church, 26 August 2009).  They should not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.  Marketers offering religious or spiritual healing should therefore ensure that they do not state or imply they can treat or cure those conditions listed in the Help Note on Health, Beauty and Slimming Marketing Communications that refer to Medical Conditions.  They should avoid referring to conditions such as brain tumors, infertility (Kings Church Salisbury, 25 March 2009), cancer (Mount Zion Restoration Ministries, 2 June 2010), HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, depression, leukemia (All Nations Church, 11 February 2009) broken vertebrae and autism (Medway Revival Fellowship, 8 June 2011). 

As well as steering clear of “serious” medical conditions, marketers should note that the ASA is likely to consider claims to heal adverse physical conditions irresponsible.   In 2012 the ASA upheld complaints about a leaflet that stated "NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!” and listed various diseases. While the ASA acknowledged that the advertiser believed that prayer could treat illness, it concluded that the ad made unsubstantiated claims and could discourage people, particularly the vulnerable or those suffering from undiagnosed symptoms, from seeking essential treatment. It ruled the ad could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and was therefore irresponsible (Healing on the Streets – Bath, 13 June 2013). To date CAP has not seen evidence that religious healing can treat or cure illness, dysfunction or malformations. Marketers should be aware that testimonials alone are unlikely to suffice as adequate substantiation.

In 2005, the ASA rejected a complaint about a poster headlined “Miracles Healing Faith” because it judged that readers would understand the poster to refer to spiritual, not physical, miracles and healing (Peniel Pentecostal Church t/a Michael Reid Ministries, 5 October 2005).  This would suggest that claims that are either non-specific, clearly relate to spiritual or emotional healing, or that are likely to be seen by readers, including those that might be more vulnerable because of ill-health, as merely a manifestation of faith, are likely to be acceptable.  Marketers are likely to be able to make claims about spiritual or emotional well-being or describe the comfort and support that prayer or faith has offered sufferers and their families. 

See ‘Offence: Religion’, ‘Therapies: Healing’ and 'Substantiation'.

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