THE CHURCH of England has threatened legal action after Britain’s biggest cinema chains banned an advert showing Christians reciting the Lord’s Prayer because it could cause offence.
The minute-long advert received clearance from the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority, but the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles adverts for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas, has refused to show it.
The CoE has threatened legal action and said it is the victim of religious discrimination.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said the decision was extraordinary while the Bishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, described it as an irrational reflex which regarded religion as a problem.
The advert, produced by JustPray.uk, shows the Lord’s Prayer being recited by a members of the public ranging from bodybuilders to children, and also features the Most Rev Justin Welby.
Asked for the Prime Minister’s response to the ban, a Downing Street spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “He thinks it is ridiculous.”
The spokesman declined to expand on the rationale behind the PM’s view or to say whether Mr Cameron thought the decision should be reversed.
A CoE spokesman said it was initially believed the advert had been approved and would be played before showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens from December 18. They were later informed that, because of a DCM policy not to run adverts which could potentially cause offence, the video would not be shown. When asked for a copy of that policy, CoE was told there is no formal policy document but that it had been agreed with the DCM’s members. There is now a formal policy on the DCM’s website, which states: “To be approved, an advertisement must ... not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising.”
The video features two Christian groups in Yorkshire: Street Angels in Leeds which provide support to people in the city on a Friday night and the Saturday Gathering in Halifax. The gathering was launched on the back of Calderdale churches work with a food bank. Linda Maslen from Christians Together in Calderdale which organises the Saturday Gathering said: “The Church of England asked us if they could film one of our baptisms and we were delighted. Our gathering has brought together people who might not have felt able to go to a regular church service. We find it really sad that the cinemas won’t allow people to see what we are doing. We have good relations with other faith communities and the non-faith communities in Calderdale and we know the Lord’s Prayer is not something which would cause an issue.”
The video also includes a couple getting married in Lindley, Huddersfield.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I find it extraordinary that cinemas rule that it is inappropriate for an advert on prayer to be shown in the week before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. I think they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision, especially in the light of the terrorist attack in Paris where many people have found comfort and solace in prayer. This advert is about as ‘offensive’ as a carol service on Christmas Day.”
In a blog on the issue the Bishop of Leeds said: “why do the cinema people think prayer is so dangerous? And who exactly is going to be offended by a one-minute advert that consists of a pile of people saying a phrase of the Lord’s Prayer in sequence? No propaganda. No coercion. No pressure. Just an encouraging invitation. What is the problem?
Well, the problem is basically the illiteracy of a liberal culture that thinks itself to be intellectually mature and culturally sound. This culture assumes (I choose the word carefully) that secular humanism is neutral - and self-evidently ‘true’ - and that, by definition, any religious world view is somewhere up the scale of irrational and loaded madness.”
Stephen Slack, the Church’s chief legal adviser, said the banning of the advert could give rise to legal proceedings under the Equality Act which bans commercial organisations from refusing services on religious grounds.
DCM defended its decision to keep the advert off-screen, saying some ads could cause offence to people of different faiths, political persuasions or those of no faith.
In a statement, it said: “DCM has a policy of not accepting ‘political or religious advertising’ content for use in its cinemas.
“Some advertisements - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith.
“In this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally.”