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July 26, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:07am

The National did not breach discrimination code in article ‘mocking’ Mormon MP’s beliefs, IPSO rules

By James Walker

The National did not breach press guidelines on discrimination in an article “mocking” a Mormon MP’s beliefs, a press regulator has ruled.

Stirling MP Stephen Kerr complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about a comment piece published on 25 January this year in the pro-independence Scottish daily newspaper.

The National article ran with the headline: “Could divine intervention help break the Brexit impasse?” in print and: “Heaven help us with these Scottish Tory MPs and their Unionism,” online.

It joked that Kerr “does not believe Scotland could be a successful independent state but does believe in angels”, after he argued against a second Scottish Independence referendum during PMQs.

It also ruminated: “Why put the question of deal, no-deal or no Brexit to fallible parliamentarians – or the mere mortals they represent – when we could just ask God?”

Columnist Shona Craven also compared Mormonism founder Joseph Smith’s refusal to show golden tablets containing the word of God to anyone else with the Government’s withholding of Brexit legal advice.

Kerr, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and once held a senior position in the church, complained to IPSO that the article breached its discrimination rules (Clause 12).

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He said it was “not appropriate” for The National to “demean and ridicule him on the basis of his religious beliefs”. The clause states press “must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference” to an individuals’ religion.

The Tory MP said the satirical op-ed “treated tenets of his faith in a pejorative way” by suggesting the Mormon concept of “continuing revelation” was best translated as “making it up as you go along”.

Kerr has previously complained about being subject to “blind prejudice” for being a Mormon, saying his faith had been “traduced”.

The National denied breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice, saying: “Freedom of expression dictated that no individual be entitled to practice religion free from criticism”.

It also denied making a pejorative reference to tenets of his religion and argued that columnists had every right to question the views of politicians and look at conflicts between their religious and political beliefs.

But the Scottish title did offer to publish a letter from Kerr, setting out his views, as a gesture of goodwill.

IPSO did not uphold the complaint.

Its Complaints Committee said: “Clause 12 does not prohibit criticism or mockery of religions or religious groups – rather, it affords protection to individuals from pejorative, prejudicial or irrelevant references to their own religion.

“In this case, the article made satirical or mocking references to the Book of Mormon, to the notion of ‘continuing revelation’, and to other aspects of the Mormon faith.

“However, these references to the teachings of the Church were not directed at the complainant personally, and were not framed in reference to him as an individual, but to the organisation as a whole, and its beliefs.

“The complainant’s concerns on this point did not therefore engage the terms of Clause 12.”

Read the full IPSO ruling.

Picture: UK Parliament

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