Digital Cinema Media, a company that handles advertisements seen in theatres before film showings, banned an advertisement that had been produced by the Church of England. Stating that the ban by the private company is “rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech,” the Church of England added that the policy was inaugurated only after the church had begun trying to get the video in cinemas. The ad had already received approval from the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority, DCM - which handles ads at Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas in the UK – continues to refuse it.
Produced by JustPray.uk, the video advertisement shows the Lord's Prayer being recited by members of the public ranging from bodybuilders, police, children, and a Gospel choir. It also features Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The archbishop responded to DCM’s decision by saying it is "extraordinary" that the biggest cinema chain in country banned the video.
A spokesman for the church said the minute-long video had been approved initially and would be shown before the showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 18. The Church of England has threatened to file suit under the Equality Act, arguing that it is a victim of religious discrimination after being told that the video would somehow cause offense. A statement recently appeared on the DCM website, stating: "To be approved, an advertisement must ... not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising." The Equality Act prohibits commercial organizations from refusing service on the basis of religion.
Moreover, said the DCM statement: "Religious advertising means: advertising which wholly or partially advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief) or any part of any religion, faith or such equivalent systems of belief."
Speaking to The Mail on November 22, Archbishop Welby 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.” The churchman described the sadness and confusion of faith-filled people all over the world at the decision. "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.”
The archbishop added, "This advert is about as 'offensive' as a carol service on Christmas Day."
Also speaking for the church was Director of Communications Rev. Arun Arora. “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 said. "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."
The atheists of the UK also responded to the ban. The president of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson said, "The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience. The Church does not hesitate to ban things that it deems inappropriate from its own church halls - things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right."
DCM is owned by the Odeon, Cineworld, and Vue chains, and represents approximately 276 cinemas throughout the UK.
Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has no written Constitution nor Bill of Rights as an ultimate guarantee of its freedoms.