Banning Prayer Advertisements in UK Cinemas

Church of England wants to introduce prayer to Star Wars audience in cinemas
Church of England wants to introduce prayer to Star Wars audience in cinemas

There appears to have been a bit of a fuss about the Church of England wanting to deploy an advertisement involving prayer, they claim it was banned and cite free-speech concerns. As reported by the BBC …

The Church of England has said it is “disappointed and bewildered” by the refusal of leading UK cinemas to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer.

The Church called the decision “plain silly” and warned it could have a “chilling” effect on free speech.

It had hoped the 60-second film would be screened UK-wide before Christmas ahead of the new Star Wars film.

The agency that handles adverts for the cinemas said it could offend those of “differing faiths and no faith”.

The advert features the Christian prayer being recited or sung by a variety of people.

They include refugees, a grieving son, weightlifters at a gym, a sheep farmer, a gospel choir and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby.

To be honest, being “bewildered” is the normal state of mind within the C of E, it is nothing unusual.

First, let’s get our Prayer ad facts straight

Point 1 – It has not been “Banned”

This is being seriously claimed by the C of E, and that claim to be quite frank is a lie. The truth is that the agency that handles the distribution of advertisements into the majority of Cinemas has enforced their well publicised policy of never taking any advertisements for either religion or politics. If you are disappointed and really want to see their advertisement, then you can.

In fact, here it is, this supposedly “banned” advertisement is freely available for anybody to view.

Point 2 – Cinema Bosses did not claim it was offensive

The other part to the “banning” claim is the supposed motivation, apparently we are to believe that it was refused because it was deemed to be offensive by cinema bosses.

Wrong, that is not true at all, As previously mentioned, the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency has a rather clear and well-known (to those in the industry) policy …

2.1 To be approved, an Advertisement must:

2.1.1 have been cleared as compliant with the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising;

2.1.2 have received any necessary classification (for example a film classification for age rating);

2.1.3 not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute Political or Religious Advertising; and

2.1.4 otherwise comply with DCM’s Terms and Conditions (effective from 1 January 2015), as published on DCM’s website (

2.2 For the purposes of clause 2.1.3 above, Political or Religious Advertising means

2.2.1 political advertising for the purposes of section 321 of the Communications Act 2003; or

2.2.2 advertising which wholly or partly 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.

This is up on their website and states up front that they do not accept any political or religious advertisements … ever.

So the real question is this – how is it possibly for the C of E to go to all the cost and bother of spending rather a lot of cash creating the advertisement without ever checking with DCM to determine if they would accept it?

A rather nice commentary on it all by Ian Dunt can be found here within Politics UK …

Non-religious ads get rejected all the time. “We don’t even think about it,” Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), says. “It’s a routine part of advertising buying. There was no chance the [Church of England] ad was ever going to be approved.”

When the BHA tried to launch a photo competition for young people recently in photography magazines, a similar agency controlling lifestyle magazine advertising turned it down on the basis of the same policy. There were none of the howls of anguish which accompanied the Church of England decision. When their ad on ticking non-believer in the census was rejected by Transport for London, there was none of the outrage on the front pages of the newspapers as there is today.

Instead we’ve cranked up the Christian outrage machine once again. The cottage industry of people claiming the church is some poor victimised minority group, persecuted by an intolerant secular mainstream, is in for another good quarter of growth. Except of course that it is the most unthinkable rubbish. The establishment church is not some silenced minority. It has plenty of ways to get its message out, including through it’s state-protected schools, it’s state-protected peers in the Lords, it’s state-protected position during moments of public ceremony, or even Thought for the Day. Religion is still given a pride of place in society which is completely at odds with the level of support it enjoys.

If anything, it only goes to show how powerful the church remains. Make a decision against a humanist organisation and it is unworthy of comment. Make it against the church and it’s the end of free speech as we know it.

But what if …

Let’s play “what-if” and for a moment assume that DCM happily accepted this advertisement and it started appearing (as was planned) prior to each and every showing of the new Star Wars movie, would anybody have cared or would there have been howls of anguish from “offended” people?

The short answer is no, nobody would be “offended”. The slightly longer answer, it’s a commercial decision, and if they opted to go for it, then the vast majority would happily ignore it.

If indeed a religious group want to promote a fantasy prior to a movie that is of course a fantasy then mostly nobody would be all that bothered. “Ah“, you might think, “I’m sure Richard Dawkins would leap in with an objection via twitter“.

Wrong, because he actually supports the idea of them showing this advertisement, seriously he really does, he is quoted as saying …

“My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”


Is this not a secularism issue?

No, it is not. What many truly fail to grasp is that secularism is not about banning religious belief, but rather is about keeping religion and politics separated. Secularism is about the state remaining totally neutral and should never promote any specific religious positions. That means no religion in the context of the courts, or state funded schools, or council meetings, etc…but within a commercial context, all bets are off.

You can find a better definition of it all here.

So who might possibly be offended?

With tongue placed firmly in cheek … Easy, it was to be screened prior to a Star Wars movie, so clearly all those who are officially part of the Jedi religion will be. Apparently in England and Wales according to the 2011 official census that is officially 176,632 people, and least you are suffering a total sense of humour failure, no they don’t actually believe, they were simply mocking the idea of being asked via an official census what their religious belief was. Putting down “Jedi” on the form was a rather effective middle finger to the state.

One last thought

Perhaps the Church of England’s PR guy did actually know that they had no hope of ever getting the advertisement into the cinemas, and instead this is really all a clever stunt that has been designed to poke the media into giving them a huge volume of totally free front page advertising. If that is indeed true, than I guess writing about it like this is not exactly helping.

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