What is the world coming to when an advert with a Universal rating gets the red flag for fear of causing ‘offence’ to those with other religious inclinations or who lack the faith all together?
The Church of England released an advert on the Lord’s Prayer as part of the Just Pray campaign. It has been refused to be shown in major UK cinemas for fear of causing offence.
The advert—now approaching 400k views on YouTube—displays people from all walks of life from school children to a gospel choir, to the Archbishop of Canterbury all reciting, grieving, mumbling and singing the Lord’s Prayer.
The British Board of Film Classification gave the advert the lowest rating, a U, therefore allowing it the chance to be shown. However, Digital Cinema Media (DCM)—in charge of major screens such as the Odeon, Cineworld and Vue—banned the advert from being shown before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, believing it to have the potential to be offensive. DCM believes: ‘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 that ‘in this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally’.
As a self-governing body set up by the advertising industry, the British Board of Film Classification cannot impose legal sanctions on companies who decide to refuse to screen any particular advertisement.
Despite not currently pursuing legal sanctions, it has been a decision which has certainly undergone heavy criticism and sparked much debate.
Stephen Fry, renowned atheist, said it was ‘bizarre, unfair and misguided’ while Boris Johnson condemned it as ‘outrageous’. In a recent comment Prime Minister David Cameron likewise described the ban to be ‘ridiculous’.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commented that the freedom to hold a religion and express ideas were: ‘essential British values. We are concerned by any blanket ban on adverts by all religious groups … There is nothing in law that prevents Christian organisations promoting their faith through adverts’.
The Church of England suggested the banning of this advert could have a ‘chilling’ effect on free speech.
At the same time secular organisations (and even Christians) believe there are good reasons for the ban. The National Secular Society states that: ‘religion, like politics, has the potential to be divisive and cinema chains don’t want to run the risk of alienating their paying customers with unwanted religious or political messaging’.
‘For years now we have been told by secularists that religious people have to stop being so easily offended when their faith is challenged. And I agree’ says Guardian columnist Giles Fraser. ‘But secularists have to stop being so easily offended too’.
Let’s look at the arguments for and against the ban:
All equal under the ban: ‘DCM didn’t ban the Lord’s Prayer explicitly, nor did it specifically target the Church of England. The same policy would prevent Muslim groups from placing an advert featuring Islamic call to prayer or extolling the virtues of a Caliphate; an atheist group from using cinemas to refute the existence of God; and the Church of Scientology from recruiting new Scientologists’. (National Secular Society blog.)
It is supposed to be offensive: ‘But as to whether it is offensive, I have to come out and say it: the secularists are right. The Lord’s Prayer is not mild, inoffensive, vanilla, listless, nominal, wishy-washy or wallpapery. If you don’t worship the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, in fact, it is deeply subversive, upsetting and offensive, from the first phrase to the last’. (Andrew Wilson, ThinkTheology)
Hypocritical: ‘In the 2001 census, [as many as] 390,000 people identified their religious conviction as Jedi … Perhaps the new Star Wars film will boost their number—after all, this film is subtitled ‘the force awakens’… Apparently, the Jedi religion is fit for the big screen, but the Christian one is not’. (Giles Fraser, the Guardian.)
Harmless: ‘[The advert] would not, one imagines, have been very effective. It’s incredibly dusty and a bit odd’. (Ian Dunt, Politics)
It appears that the secular and the religious wings alike cannot decide as to whether this advert is controversial or offensive enough to be banned. Some Christians believe that the Lord’s Prayer is supposed to cause offence while others believe that the very idea it could cause offence is ‘plain silly’. Likewise, some atheists believe the ban to be wholly justified whilst others think it to be ‘nonsense’.
One thing is for certain though—offensive or not—the advert has sparked more discussion and possibly received more publicity than it would ever have done had it just been permitted.