Today the Mail on Sunday is reporting that cinemas have ‘banned’ a one minute film in which the Lord’s Prayer is recited. The film, featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury, was due to be shown before screenings of the new Star Wars film. As the National Secular Society pointed out, they didn’t so much ban it as decide not to show it.
Also a little misleading was the Mail’s claim that the cinema chains ‘say it could be offensive to movie-goers’. Later we get the quote in full:
But the executives suddenly pulled the plug, saying that ads that reflected people’s political or personal beliefs risked ‘upsetting, or offending, audiences’ – even though they are backing a ‘global’ advert supporting UN policies on poverty, injustice and climate change with actor Liam Neeson providing what has been described as the ‘voice of God’.
Although the Mail does seem to have half a point about the UN ad, it is clear that the executives are making a general point about advertisements on contentious topics rather than a specific claim that the Welby ad is offensive in itself. (A bad experience with showing ads from both sides in the Scottish Referendum debate prompted the cinemas to steer clear of politics and religion.)
The Church of England has reacted angrily to the decision:
Last night the Church of England threatened legal action against the cinemas, saying it was the victim of religious discrimination.
The ban will heighten fears that Christianity is being pushed to the margins of society by political correctness, and the Church said it could have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.
Usually, religious discrimination refers to unfair treatment of someone from a specific religion, but the cinema policy applies to all religions equally. I don’t think this can even be seen as anti-religious (as opposed to anti-Anglican) – I’m sure any advert proposed by evangelical atheists would get turned away too, and political ads are treated in the same way.
The Church’s strongest ground for complaint seems to be that it received early assurances that the screening could go ahead – although they may take comfort in the fact that the news story will probably generate more viewings of the film online than they were denied by the cinemas.
And finally …