The Church of England have recently produced an advertisement that aims to promote the Lord’s Prayer, the Church of England and their belief system. Having been denied approval to air the ad in a number of cinemas, the Church of England has issued a warning that they may begin legal proceedings under the Equalities Act, though this is after they themselves successfully argued in court that they should be exempt from the rules of the Equality Act in order to avoid discrimination charges against LGBT people.
The Church of England have, just last month, successfully argued that they are exempt to the rules of the Equality Act due to their religious exemptions when they were taken to tribunal after firing a gay hospital chaplain for marrying his partner. The case was dismissed by the tribunal.
It would appear, though, that after being able to have that particular case thrown out of court under ‘religious exemptions’ the Church of England is threatening the exact same actions against companies who do not wish to air their advertisement.
Digital Cinema Media, who provides all advertisements to UK cinema chains, blocked the proposal for the advertisement to be shown in cinemas under a long standing policy of ‘not accepting political or religious advertising’.
The rules regarding religion on broadcast outlets are detailed, and stipulate that advertisements must not ‘expound doctrines or beliefs’ unless they are on specialist faith channels.
Religious based advertisements have proven to be controversial and upsetting in the past. In 2009 two rival campaigns using the sides of buses to debate whether God exists prompted thousands of complaints, and in 2012 a campaign using the slogan ‘Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud! Get over it!’ was banned by Transport of London after being employed by evangelical groups.
Due to these guidelines and poorly received campaigns in the past the DCM (Digital Cinema Media) argues that it could offend people of ‘differing faiths and no faith’, a claim that the Church of England are calling ‘plain silly’ and claiming will have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.
Reacting to the decision not to show the advertisements in British cinemas, including Vue, Odeon and Cineworld, the Church of England’s chief legal adviser Stephen Slack claimed that the decision could ‘give rise to legal proceedings’ under the Equality Act.
Despite the Church of England claiming that their advert should not be banned because the Equality Act prevents businesses from discriminating on religious grounds some activists have voiced disapproval of the Church’s willingness to claim protection under the Equality Act when having claimed in court that they are exempt from it.
Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society has said that, ‘The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience. The Church does not hesitate to ban things from its own church halls – things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right.’
Despite claims from the Church of England that they do not wish to broadcast the advertisement on television and radio, the advertisement has already received a lot of air time on both due to the media coverage of the controversy. The Church has claimed that the online version has been clicked on half a million times in the first 24 hours since the story broke.
A public relations consultant Peter Davies has said, ‘People tend to come into cinemas 20 minutes after the programme starts, so they can avoid the adverts. Already, it seems the audience far outweighs what the Church of England would have gotten if it had been shown in cinemas’.