The Church of England has threatened legal action against Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas and has said it is the victim of religious discrimination after they were told the minute-long video could cause offence.
Produced by JustPray.uk, the advert shows the Lord’s Prayer being recited by a members of the public ranging from bodybuilders to children. It also features the Most Rev Justin Welby.
He 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 on Christmas Day.”
The advert was due to be shown in cinemas from 18 December before showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It received clearance from the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority, but the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles adverts for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas, has refused to show it.
The Rev Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, said the Church is “bewildered” by the decision. He said: “In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech.”
Stephen Slack, the Church’s chief legal adviser, warned the banning of the advert could “give rise to the possibility of legal proceedings” under the Equality Act which bans commercial organisations from refusing services on religious grounds.
DCM’s advertising policy states: “To be approved, an advertisement must not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising.”
As further clarification, it reads: “Religious advertising means: advertising which wholly or partially advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief.”