Britain’s biggest cinema chains have banned the screening of a film in which the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the public recite the Lord’s Prayer – because they say it could be offensive to movie-goers.
Odeon, Cineworld and Vue have refused to show the one-minute film the Church of England planned to run in cinemas across the UK before the new Star Wars blockbuster, which opens a week before Christmas.
Last night the Church of England threatened legal action against the cinemas, saying it was the victim of religious discrimination.
The astonishing decision to block the film [produced by the Just Pray campaign] was made even though it was given a Universal certificate by the British Board of Film Classification – meaning anyone, of any age, can watch it – and approved by the Cinema Advertising Association.
Archbishop Justin Welby 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. 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. As a church we are a Jesus movement and this is the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples.
“I think people need to watch the film and come to their own conclusions as to whether it is offensive or upsetting. Let the public judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to.”
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.
A series of emails seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal that executives representing the leading cinema chains initially encouraged the film – which was to have been screened over two weeks before the main feature Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and would have been watched by an estimated five million cinema-goers.
The assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, said: ‘I am flabbergasted that anyone would find this prayer offensive to anybody, including people of no particular religious belief.’
Government watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it could not comment on individual cases, but added: ‘There is nothing in law that prevents Christian organisations promoting their faith through adverts.’