What’s all the fuss about the Lord’s prayer? Emma-Louise Fenelon

30 November 2015 by


3968d1b29ab5c87f812e12ccb25b4ff3“I find your lack of faith disturbing” (Darth Vader)

Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the media agency that supplies adverts to 80% of UK cinemas caused consternation last week when it announced its refusal to show a 60-second advert by the Church of England encouraging people to pray. The ad would have been guaranteed a sizable audience had it been permitted to air as planned before the upcoming Star Wars: the Force Awakens, advance ticket sales for which have broken all known records.

DCM said the decision was based on concerns that the ad risked upsetting or offending audiences and ran contrary to their policy not to show ads that in “the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute Political or Religious Advertising.”

David Cameron, Richard Dawkins, Carrie Fisher and Stephen Fry were among the chorus of voices to lambast the decision. Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist MP put down an early day motion for debate in the House of Commons urging for “the ban be reconsidered and overturned”. The motion is currently supported by the signatures of 14 MPs.

In response to the controversy, DCM announced that they believe a “clear neutral stance remains the fairest policy for all, and allows DCM to treat all political and religious beliefs equally.” Steven Slack, the Church’s legal adviser warned the decision gave rise to the possibility of legal proceedings.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission weighed in with a statement indicating their concern about blanket bans on religious advertising. The Commission’s opinion concluded that “there is nothing in law that prevents Christian organisations promoting their faith through adverts.” The statement did little, however, to answer the trickier question about whether there is anything that legally requires DCM to show the ad and whether the Church of England may have a cause of action.

So where does the law stand?

The Equality Act 2010 outlaws discrimination on the basis of nine protected characteristics including religion or belief. It applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public, such as a cinema.

Section 13 provides that a person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others. Section 23 requires the Claimant to be compared to an actual or hypothetical comparator who is in not materially different circumstances from the Claimant. To prove discrimination under the Equality Act, therefore, the Church of England would have to show that compared to other religious organisations, they were being treated less favourably.

Equality expert (the late) Sir Bob Hepple suggested in his book on the law and equality that

It is a defence to show that the comparator would have been treated equally badly. For example, an employer who denies a fair procedure to a Black employee may escape a claim for racial discrimination if it shown that a White employee would have been treated the same way (the so-called ‘bastard to everyone’ defence). (Equality: The Legal Framework, Bob Hepple, 2nd Ed., page 69)

Such reasoning implies that a challenge to DCM’s decision is likely to be unsuccessful. DCM, by refusing to air adverts they reasonably regard as “Political or Religious Advertising” would be treating all religious organisations the same way and therefore not discriminating on the basis of religion or belief.

The case of R (on the application of Core Issues Trust) v Transport for London [2014] EWCA Civ 34 is worth considering, despite not being strictly relevant to discrimination claims under the Equality Act. The subject of that case, well known to Londoners, was an attempt by Core Issues Trust, a Christian organisation whose objectives include “sexual re-orientation” to place an advert on London buses. The ad stated “NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD, GET OVER IT” and was in response to one by Stonewall, an LGBT rights organisation, which had stated “SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY, GET OVER IT!”

In that case, it was argued by Core Issues Trust that because advertising space on London buses is sold on a commercial basis, there is a “right to buy” and there should be no restriction on content. It relied on a Canadian Supreme Court judgment concerning a challenge to the transit authority’s advertising policies, which permitted commercial but not political advertising on public transit vehicles. The Canadian Supreme Court found that a blanket ban on political advertising did not constitute a “minimal impairment” of freedom of expression and it was therefore not permitted under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Courts have adopted a more liberal approach to freedom of expression than the European Court of Human Rights or the UK courts and have applied concepts of “public place” and “minimal impairment” which are not reflected in the Strasbourg or our domestic jurisprudence where the protection afforded to freedom of expression is determined by applying a proportionality test.

In dismissing the argument of Core Issues Trust regarding the “right to buy” commercial advertising space, the Court of Appeal relied on jurisprudence of the ECtHR. Lord Dyson MR regarded this as having clearly established that it is permissible for public bodies to restrict advertising on the basis of content, provided that any restrictions are prescribed by law and necessary in pursuit of a legitimate aim.

In Murphy v Ireland [2004] 38 EHRR 13, the court upheld a ban on a radio advertisement inviting listeners to a series of meetings about evidence of the resurrection. In that case the ECtHR said that the exercise of the right of freedom of expression carried with it duties and responsibilities “including a duty to avoid as far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration, gratuitously offensive to others and profane”. In Animal Defenders International v UK [2013] 57 EHRR 21, the Court controversially upheld the UK’s ban on political advertising for television and radio, departing from its own case law. Finally, in Mouvement Raelien Suisse v Switzerland [2013] 56 EHRR 14, the Grand Chamber stated, “individuals do not have an unconditional or unlimited right to the extended use of public space, especially in relation to facilities intended for advertising or information campaigns”.


Admittedly, the Convention is concerned with the actions of public authorities, and therefore not those of privately owned cinemas. However, any suggestion by the Church of England that there is a “right to buy” commercial advertising space in cinemas is likely to be met with similar reasoning to that employed by the Court of Appeal. And any claim brought under the Equality Act will have to confront the obstacles outlined above.

At last count, the advert had been seen over half a million times, demonstrating that refusal to air it in cinemas did not prevent the Church of England advancing its views in other ways. Should the Church of England pursue litigation nonetheless, any resulting judgment will be required reading for those interested in equality and free speech.

Emma Fenelon is a Pupil Barrister at 1 Crown Office Row


  1. Tiberius says:

    We must all fall into a category, the idea of neutrality or a faithless person is a way of escapism. If it can be shown that a non-religious stance is being pushed then that is a form of discrimination on ideology. Schools are being told to adapt to such notions for those which fail to recognize a deity.

  2. […] The Church of England is mad about the ban of its cinema ads click here and click here […]

  3. daveyone1 says:

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

  4. simpon says:

    Because the C of Es money is better in litigators back pockets rather than in shoring up their crumbling, empty churches or feeding the poor.

  5. Commercial advertising using Christmas themes is allowed in cinemas and on television. Virtually every commercial at this time of year is about Christmas, and it is quite right for the Church to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas. It is not the case that any mention of religion is prohibited in commercial advertising, so I cannot understand why this advert was deemed to be ‘offensive’. The consumerism around Christmas is nauseating, and nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas. People who go to the cinema do not really want to have to sit through commercials advertising expensive products that they cannot afford. At least prayer does not cost anything, and they even may find it is worth more than the latest perfume.

  6. Michael Hall says:

    I can understand the bemusement of the Church that so much cinema advertising before Christmas uses religious themes, such as that it is good to be generous at Christmastime, spend lots of money and buy your presents from our lovely shop, but any suggestion in an advert that Christmas might mean more than this, is attacked as “offensive”.
    There is way too much censorship in cinema advertising, if the Lord’s Prayer is regarded as offensive. The religion of materialism does not seem to be affected by the ruling. Cinema advertising can be offensive when it makes people feel bad because they cannot afford expensive presents, and it teaches the value of material things over things like love, kindness and friendship. As such the ruling is discriminatory and wrong.

  7. Tony Percy says:

    Rather than the CofE undertaking legal action, as it touches on an protected characteristic of the Equality Act, the Commission can be asked, to use their enforcement powers under the Equality Act 2006.


    Which has been done.

    Seeing it concerns a commercial service, it maybe a question of whether some ‘protected characteristics’ are more protected than others. And so a question of equality before the law, and equal protection by it. Thus an matter of Article 20 (rather than 10) so to speak.

  8. John says:

    This “case” is complete and deliberate unashamed exploitation of idiot media in this country.
    Yet again, they rise to the bait of the self-styled religious “victims”.
    Here in the UK they use bogus adverts which they will have already been advised by their ad agency would never be accepted by DCM. Still they persist. Why? Go figure……….
    The stupid careerist hacks at EHRC also happily rise to the bait in an effort to ingratiate themselves with religious quacks.
    In the US, they have been manufacturing a similar campaign around a brand of coffee cups.
    Don’t you know this is the peak time of the year for religious sales in the West?
    How else can these poorly supported outfits get cheap if not almost free advertising?
    In their line of business every last bit of pseudo-controversy counts, especially in the cash box!

  9. Patricia Daymond says:

    The Lord’s prayer does not contain anything offensive to other faiths – Why should those who have faith be limited by people who have no faith?

    1. John says:

      People go to cinemas to watch films, not to listen to prayers being said.
      If they wanted to hear prayers, they would go to churches, synagogues, temples or mosques.
      The fact that most people do not go to places of prayer says it all, does it not?
      I am amazed that so many people have fallen for this nonsense so literally.
      It is just another cheap stunt from the religion industry trying to peddle their shop-soiled wares to all and sundry yet again – and, yet again, without success.
      What a failure of a business model they truly are!

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Family Family life fatal accidents act Fertility FGM Finance fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Germany Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection hammerton v uk happy new year Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII hereditary disorder Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interim remedies international international criminal court international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College koran burning Labour Lady Hale LASPO Law Pod UK Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence limestone pavements lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Sumption Lord Taylor luftur rahman MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: