Britain’s leading cinema chains have refused to screen an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that it could be offensive to people of other faiths or none. The Church of England, who commissioned the advert, called the decision “rather chilling in terms of free speech”.
The 60 second slot features a range of people, including a farmer, a weightlifter, gospel singers, children, and the Archbishop of Canterbury reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It is designed to promote the Church’s new website Just Pray, which promotes the practice and power of prayer, the BBC has reported.
The Church hoped to reach a wide audience, some of whom may not have encountered Christianity before, by screening the advert before the new Star Wars film.
One of the people who feature in the advert is Ian McDowall, a former bouncer and a weightlifter who was moved to found a Christian charity, Tough Talk, after finding his faith.
He said: “I don’t think people know a lot about Christianity these days anyway, and the opportunity to share the Lord’s Prayer in a cinema environment would make people think – and realise that Christians come in all shapes and sizes.”
The advert was passed uncut by the British Board of Film Classification, which gave it a “U” certificate, meaning that it is suitable for all ages. The Cinema Advertising Authority also granted it clearance for distribution.
But the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles cinema advertising for three of Britain’s largest chains, Odeon, Vue and Cineworld, have refused to pick up the advert, as it didn’t want to risk upsetting or offending non-Christians.
In a statement, DCM said it has a policy of not accepting political or religious advertising 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,” it said, adding “in this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally”.
The Reverend Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, said: “We find that really astonishing, disappointing and rather bewildering.
“The prospect of many families attending the release of the new Star Wars film had seemed a good opportunity to launch the advert and a new website justpray.uk to promote prayer ahead of Christmas.
“The Lord’s Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day, and in this country has been part of everyday life for centuries.”
He added: “In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly, but the fact that they have insisted upon it, makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech.”
He encouraged people to watch the advert and visit the website, and to make up their own minds “as to whether they are upset or offended by it”.