The biggest movie theaters in the U.K. won't show a commercial featuring the Lord’s Prayer. And the Church of England is not happy about it.
The 56-second advertisement features a variety of Christians, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, a farmer, a man grieving at a graveyard, refugees, a police officer and members of a gospel choir, all reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a venerated Christian prayer that comes from the New Testament. It is part of the Church of England’s new #JustPray campaign and JustPray.uk website, which hopes to “promote the renewal of prayer in a digital age.”
The church had hoped the commercial would play before screenings of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which opens Dec. 18. But Digital Cinema Media, an agency that handles advertisements for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue theaters that account for 80 percent of movie screens in the U.K., has refused to air the spot on the grounds that it has a policy of not accepting political or religious advertisements in case they offend viewers.
“Some advertisements -- unintentionally or otherwise -- could cause offense to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith,” DCM said in a statement. “In this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally.”
But representatives and supporters of the Church of England say the ad is benign and excluding it from theaters is an infringement upon free speech.
"We are bewildered by the decision of the cinemas. 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," the Rev. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, said in a statement.
"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,” said Arora.
Archbishop Welby, the spiritual head of the Church of England, added in an interview with the Mail on Sunday newspaper that the commercial “is about as offensive as a carol service on Christmas Day.”
“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 light of the terrorist attack in Paris where many people have found comfort and solace in prayer,” said Welby.