It is wrong to ban the Church of England’s advert

It has been revealed that Digital Cinema Media (DCM), who control advertising for Odeon, Vue and Cineworld (80 per cent of cinemas in the UK) have refused to run a 60 second video that was made by the Church of England. The video features several different groups of people singing the Lord’s Prayer, hardly a malign piece of propaganda.

Supporters of the ban, such as John Hegarty, argued that the cinema is no place to spread religious messages. Hegarty, who co-founded the Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency, said:  “People pay money to go to the cinema, very diverse audiences, and they really don’t want religion dictating to them.” However, one advert amongst 30 minutes’ worth could hardly be accused of dictation.   

In any case, he should not suggest that adverts in the cinema have much of an impact on those who have paid to see a specific film. Few people decide to go and buy a new Toyota Auris after going to see The Hunger Games. Arguably, this is even more the case with Star Wars, the film with which the showing of this advert was to coincide. The likes of Hegart can rest assured that anticipation for the film itself will take up the majority of the audience’s concentration.

The more pressing issue however is the continuing sense of paranoia over individual sensitivities. Religion is not the same as a car. It has much more fundamental implications on society. Surely then, at a time when so many of us feel there is no sense of British unity, it is important we do not turn away from ideas that enable personal identification, and bring people together. There is nothing wrong with encouraging moderate religion in favour of solidarity.

Globally, we are in the midst of a war against terrorist states that torment so much of the world. Our free society is our biggest weapon. We must think what the greatest threat of terror is –  it is not a genuine religious concern, but one of extremist social beliefs and a thirst for power.

Attacking religion is, therefore, not the appropriate response, and supressing expression is feeding into the power they yearn for. As long as we hold onto this sense of freedom, we have unlimited soft power. Censorship by any means is a very dangerous thing, never more so than now.

The DMC’s move is not the British way, and the response to their actions proves this. We are not a secular society, and neither are we an exclusively Christian one. We are a diverse nation of free thinking, tolerant, inclusive people.

We show no acceptance of those who offend, but we refuse to be silenced too. As a result the advert in question has had significantly greater coverage than it would ever have got if it had been allowed to run in cinemas.   

And rightly so: the Church of England should be allowed to advertise, just as pro-abortion campaigners are allowed to air abortion adverts (post water-shed, Channel 4). It is not right that The Daily Mail managed to publish a controversial, Islamophobic cartoon the week after the Paris terror attack, yet the Church of England did not manage to show its benign video that harmlessly showed people coming together.

Ultimately there is nothing offensive about spreading a positive message through one’s beliefs, as long as those who believe something different are allowed to express theirs too. We must be careful not to let the most powerful control our exposure to other people’s opinions and values. In this case, luckily, it seems the British people have done their nation proud.

 Image credit: Mike Kniec

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