May the Force Be … Secular

Theaters nix prayer ad before Star Wars premiere

An Anglican effort to show an ad of the Lord’s Prayer in movie theaters before the upcoming Star Wars movie was rejected by leading U.K. theaters, drawing criticism from many sectors.

Carrie Fisher, the actress who returns to play Princess Leia Organa in “The Force Awakens,” was among the critics.

“I have no idea why they would do that,” Fisher told the U.K. newspaper the Mail on Sunday, comparing the ad to the placement of Bibles in hotel rooms.

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“I have never seen an advertisement like this, but if the theater is like a hotel room, then they have every right to put up a power of prayer advert.”

The next “Star Wars” movie opens in the U.K. on Dec. 17, one week before Christmas Eve.

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Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and head prelate of the Church of England, told the Mail on Sunday he thought it “extraordinary” that an ad for prayer was found inappropriate to be shown the week before Christmas.

“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,” he said on Nov. 20. “This advert is about as ‘offensive’ as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day.”

The archbishop appears in the minute-long ad, as do Christians from all backgrounds. They pray the Lord’s Prayer, also called the Our Father.

Digital Cinema Media, the company that supplies advertising to Britain’s major movie theaters, initially offered the Church of England a discounted price for the ad slot.

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It later said the ad had been rejected by its clients, the three major movie theaters of the U.K. — Odeon, Cineworld and Vue. They said they could not carry religious ads. Executives’ emails said that such ads risked upsetting or offending audiences.

The advertising company also implemented a policy barring ads connected to personal beliefs following objections to ads related to the campaigns for and against the Scottish independence vote in 2014.

Richard Dawkins, an atheist polemicist, objected to the idea that the Lord’s Prayer ads should be barred on the ground they could be offensive.

“If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended,” he told The Guardian.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he was “flabbergasted” that anyone would find the prayer offensive.

The Church of England is considering legal action under the Equality Act.

This article originally appeared in Catholic News Agency. 

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