When you go to the cinema, you can expect a number of things: overpriced popcorn bearing only a vague hint of flavour; floors that you struggle to peel yourself away from after each step; adverts that seem to last forever and end up making you want to boycott whatever they advertised; a group of people who have somehow fallen under the misapprehension that the rest of the audience wish to hear their running commentary; but most of all, you expect to spend two hours without thinking, just watching.
However, the Church of England think that in this time we ought to reflect upon our faith and the action of prayer, so they paid for a dreary advert to precede the new Star Wars film in which the Lord’s Prayer is read line-by-line by a number of different groups and individuals.
Unfortunately for the C of E, the UK’s three leading cinema chains have refused to show the adverts on the grounds that it might risk ‘upsetting, or offending, audiences’. Since this announcement, the Church of England have said that this ‘bewildering’ decision is an affront to free speech and have emphasised the fact that faith and prayer plays a part in the lives of millions of people in the UK.
Now, I am a staunch defender of free speech – I’ve defended it previously in this paper. I think our Union’s “no platform policy” is noxious, I think government strategies like Prevent suppress free speech and will ultimately lead to an increase in extremist activity, and I think the idea that this advert should be banned because it could be “offensive” is ridiculous. But for the C of E to claim this is an issue of ‘free speech’ is disingenuous at best. As a post on Digital Cinema Media Limited’s website makes clear, this is about keeping a ‘neutral stance’ in religious and political matters. The only way to do this is to allow for absolutely no political and religious advertising, or to allow for all religious and political advertising. Were the Church of England to have their way, following their advert a group of us atheists could screen an advert that states: “Wasn’t all that prayer stuff a load of rubbish? There’s no god.” This could then be followed by an advert from a group of Muslims, then an advert for the Liberal Democrats, then the BNP, then Labour, etc.
It seems quite obvious to me what the more sensible of these two choices is, and it is this that the C of E are ultimately objecting to. One can’t help but think that were it, for example, a Muslim organisation that had paid for an advert, the Church of England might not have been quite so supportive, nor would the condemnation have been quite so loud had it been banned.
The Church of England has orchestrated a campaign of manipulation and misrepresentation, but it is easily seen through even from far, far away.