Phones 4U mobile phone Jesus advert banned
A mobile phone advertisement featuring an illustration of Jesus winking and giving a thumbs-up has been banned.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the Phones 4U advertisement was "disrespectful" to the Christian faith and must not be used again.
It investigated after receiving 98 complaints about the ad.
The company said it had not meant to show disrespect, but intended showing "a light-hearted, positive and contemporary image of Christianity."
The advertisement appeared on 21 April this year, just before Easter.
The ASA said the complaints had cited the cartoon depiction of Christ and the Sacred Heart, the use of the term "miraculous" for describing a mobile phone deal, and the fact that it was published on Maundy Thursday.
Phones 4U said that as soon as it received complaints, it had apologised and withdrew the advertisement. It also sent individual apologies to everyone who complained.
With the benefit of hindsight, and in the face of complaints from Christians, it "understood and regretted" that offence had been caused, it said.
The ASA welcomed this but said the advertisement had appeared to mock and belittle core Christian beliefs and was likely to cause serious offence.
The watchdog added that the advert must not be used again in its current form.
Andrew Copson, from the British Humanist Association, said the "completely ridiculous" ruling represented a "further encroachment on free speech in our society, tantamount to a reintroduction of blasphemy laws by the back door".
"The ASA have shown themselves to be absurdly hypersensitive to the possibility of religious offence and are chilling the free mockery of all beliefs which is vital in a free society.
"They seriously need to review their line on cases of this sort. It is an embarrassment in an open society to have this sort of regulation," he said.