Church of England threatens lawsuit over “Star Wars” ban

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ban Christmas ads if you don’t like religion, Church tells cinemas.

Cinemas should ban all Christmas adverts after refusing to screen a commercial featuring the Lord’s Prayer because of its religious content, the Church of England has said.Hollywood star Liam Neeson provides the “voice of God” in the minute-long ad, which received clearance from the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority. The Church is threatening to take legal action against Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which handles adverts for cinema giants Odeon, Vue and Cineworld, after it barred an advert featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury encouraging prayer. DCM told the Church the advert risked “upsetting or offending audiences” and pointed to its policy document barring commercials that advertised “any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief” or “any part” of any such religion or faith.

The advert, produced by JustPray.uk, shows the Lord’s Prayer being recited by a members of the public ranging from bodybuilders to children, and also features the Most Rev Justin Welby. Welby, the leader of the world’s Anglicans and the spiritual head of the church, 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. “Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. A CoE spokesman said it was initially believed that their minute-long advert had been approved and would be played before showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens from December 18. Email correspondence between the Church and DCM shows that in July a member of the company’s sales team offered the Church a 55 per cent discount if they signed a deal for the ad campaign, which it is understood would then have cost in the region of £250,000. But the Odeon, Cineworld and Vue chains – which control 80% of screens around the country – believe it’s apparently more likely to offend than an R18.

DCM said it had adopted a policy not to run advertising connected to political or religious beliefs following a negative reaction to political advertising it had screened before the Scottish Independence Referendum. Although DCM yesterday pointed journalists to a policy document on its website, when Rev Arora asked for a copy of the policy as recently as September 17 he was told by DCM’s finance director that “there is no formal policy document”. In a letter to DCM, the Church’s legal chief Stephen Slack alleges its decision “not to screen the proposed advertisement would involve unlawful discrimination” because DCM would be “directly discriminating against the Archbishops’ Council” by failing to provide a service to them on grounds of religion or belief. Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith.

And here it is worth distinguishing between two very different forms of secularism – that which seeks the separation of church and state at an institutional level (bishops out of the House of Lords, for example), which I agree with; and the attempt to eradicate religious discourse from the public realm, which is anti-free expression and important to resist. For others, it might just offer a welcome reminder that, when it comes to places of worship, there are – even at this time of year – still alternatives to the great cathedrals of Westfield shopping centre.

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