Free Speech Religion

The Lord also needs good PR

Church of England logoAn amusing Sunday outrage (not an outrage to equal Cecil the Lion or anything – just a little one) today stems from the three leading cinema chains in the UK refusing to flight an advertisement that features the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that it might cause offence.

You can read about the ad (and watch it) on the guardian’s website, but it’s not the ad itself that I want to talk about. My concern here is the Church’s motivation for trying to place the ad, and their reaction to the decision not to flight it. The reaction includes:

The church warned that the move could have a ‘chilling effect on free speech’ and said it was at a loss to understand the logic behind the decision.

The logic behind the decision is quite simple. Sections 2.1.3 and 2.2.2 of Digital Cinema Media’s advertising policy (pdf) read as follows:

To be approved, an Advertisement must:
2.1.3 not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute Political or Religious Advertising;

2.2 For the purposes of clause 2.1.3 above, Political or Religious Advertising means:
2.2.2 advertising which wholly or partly advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief)

In other words, the advertisement was always going to be rejected, until the relevant policy is amended. The Church of England might not have known this, but once it was communicated to them, they would clearly have no grounds for complaint regarding the decision (which, per 2.2.2, would also apply to atheist advertising).

They could think the policy wrong, or might find instances of it being applied inconsistently. But that isn’t what they are arguing. They are arguing that “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” – with the implication being that it can’t possibly be considered offensive.

I wouldn’t find it offensive to find myself watching an ad promoting prayer. Hell, sometimes it might end up being the best part of that day’s cinema experience. But it’s precisely to avoid having to cater for subjective notions of offence that Digital Cinema Media have made a blanket decision to avoid religious (and political) advertising.

But here’s the thing: the Church of England might also have been fully aware of the policy, and be leveraging this outrage for promotional purposes. After all, the guardian reports that “the advert is to promote a new Church of England website,, encouraging people to pray”.

And what better way of getting great publicity for your website than to have it become a poster-child for a “chilling effect on free speech”?

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.

5 replies on “The Lord also needs good PR”

No, they say the policy has been in place since 2008, which I believe, but it hasn’t been available in written form until now. Download the pdf, the date the document was created can be found in the file properties.

Right, thanks. The Devil’s Advocate view would be to say that that only tells us that this pdf was created then – we can’t know, from that alone, whether or not the CoE were informed of the policy.

In any event, as I say in the post, even if they didn’t know about the policy, their reaction is excessive (on the merits of the refusal – in other words, seems to be a PR ploy).

On the possibility that it might have existed in some other form on their website, unfortunately, there’s no copy of any historical version of the page on the WayBack machine, so it’s impossible to check.

I agree the reaction is excessive and I think it’s self-evident that religious and political advertising in cinemas would cause no end of contention.

DCM’s full statement, as reported in the press –

Digital Cinema Media has a long-standing policy of not accepting ‘political or religious advertising’ content for use in its cinemas, which has been in place since our inception in 2008.

“However, we recently took the decision to make it visible on our website along with all our other terms and conditions.

“This policy has been in place for many years and we are confident it is correct and fair.”

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