The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is praying that a decision to block a Lord’s Prayer advert from cinemas will only cause more appreciation for it during the run-up to Christmas.
The Church of England (CoE) has threatened legal action over the ban – affecting Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas – and has said it is the victim of religious discrimination after they were told the video could cause offence.
The advert, produced by JustPray.uk, shows the Lord’s Prayer being recited by people ranging from refugees, bodybuilders, children and the Anglican leader Justin Welby.
Yesterday the advert was given firm support from the leader of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Ian McNie, who spoke out after attending a cross-community prayer breakfast at Belfast City Council.
“This morning’s prayer breakfast highlighted once again the importance of prayer as we prayed for the city, its people and elected representatives at different levels of government,” he said.
“This event was in stark contrast to the banning of the CoE’s advert promoting the Lord’s Prayer, in cinemas in the run-up to Christmas.”
He added: “Undoubtedly many Christians will be dismayed by this decision, although not surprised. However, it is my prayer that this negative initial response from the advertising company will be turned into a positive appreciation and understanding of the importance of prayer.
“This decision takes on a more poignant meaning, especially at this time of year as we approach Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who encouraged us to pray in this way.”
Rev Adrian Dorrian, chairman of the Church and Society Commission of the Church of Ireland, said that the ban “raises significant questions about the nature of free speech in a multi-cultural society”.
The editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, Canon Ian Ellis, added: “In a free society, I believe all faiths should be able to advertise their beliefs, provided that it is done sensitively and with respect to people of other faiths and none.
“I don’t believe the Lord’s Prayer can be seen as offensive to anyone.”
The Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles adverts for the cinemas in question, decided not to run the adverts.
It said it has a policy stating that adverts must not “constitute political or religious advertising”.
DCM had not offered any comment on Monday.
A spokesman for the CoE, which is behind the JustPray.uk campaign, said that the ban would not apply in any Northern Irish branches of the three cinemas in question.
Kathryn Jacob, chief executive of Pearl & Dean, which handles adverts for 17 cinema sites in the Province, said: “The CoE didn’t book the campaign to run with us, so it won’t appear in any of our partner cinemas.”