An advert showing people saying lines from the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from the majority of UK cinemas, in a decision described by the Church of England as “extraordinary”.
The 56-second advert depicts schoolchildren, a farmer and a policeman speaking lines from the prayer, and ends with the message “Prayer is for everyone”.
Although the advert was cleared by two film watchdogs, advertising group Digital Cinema Media (DCM) eventually blocked it. DCM says it has a policy of not accepting “Political or Religious Advertising”.
However, an advert promoting world leaders’ commitments on poverty, inequality and climate change has been accepted by DCM.
The ‘Just Pray’ advert was originally due to appear before the new Star Wars film, which is released next month.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who himself features in the advert, 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.
This advert is about as ‘offensive’ as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day.Justin Welby
“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 or church service on Christmas Day.”
Atheist Richard Dawkins opposed the decision to reject the advert, as did the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark commented: “Religious freedom is a cornerstone of British values. The public will find it surprising, particularly at this time of year, that cinemas have reacted in this way.”
The Mail on Sunday reported that in the spring the Church of England was told the message would be acceptable, as long as it was passed by the Cinema Advertising Association and the British Board of Film Classification. Both cleared the advert.
In May Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which controls most UK cinema advertising, offered the Church a 55 per cent discount for the slot, but three months later changed tack.
DCM’s Finance Director told the Church: “Having fully looked into the matter, I am afraid we will be unable to take forward the proposed Church of England campaign.”
The Daily Mail reported that a document on DCM’s website outlining its policy was only created on Friday.
Explaining the decision on Twitter over the weekend, DCM said “unintentionally or otherwise” some adverts “could cause offence”.