EHRC announces inquiry into the “Lord’s Prayer” advert

Yesterday [we missed it] the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that the issues raised by the decision of Digital Cinema Media (DCM) not to show a Church of England cinema advertisement about the Lord’s Prayer will be examined as part of a major Commission report. The report, examining the adequacy of the law protecting freedom of religion or belief, will be published early next year.

The Commission has written to DCM reiterating its concerns about DCM’s justification for not showing the advertisement on the grounds that it risked offending audiences. It noted that there was no right in Britain not to be offended and that respect for people’s right to express beliefs with which others might disagree was the mark of a democratic society. The Commission has also offered its legal expertise for the purpose of intervening in the case should the Church take legal proceedings against DCM.

Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said:

“We strongly disagree with the decision not to show the adverts on the grounds they might ‘offend’ people. There is no right not to be offended in the UK; what is offensive is very subjective and this is a slippery slope towards increasing censorship. We also understand why people were confused that a commercial Christmas can be advertised but the central Christian prayer cannot. We will therefore examine the issues raised by this case as part of our major review into the law protecting freedom of religion or belief, and publish our findings in the new year.”

It’s certainly the case that there’s no “right not to be offended” in English or Scots law that we are aware of; and we await the outcome of the EHRC’s investigation with interest. But we still wonder whether the refusal by a private organisation, as opposed to a public one, to refuse to accept political or religious advertising across the board, without discriminating between particular religious or political groups – however daft the refusal – falls foul of the Equality Act 2010. But we’ll see.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "EHRC announces inquiry into the “Lord’s Prayer” advert" in Law & Religion UK, 13 December 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/12/13/ehrc-announces-inquiry-into-the-lords-prayer-advert/

4 thoughts on “EHRC announces inquiry into the “Lord’s Prayer” advert

  1. It will indeed be interesting to see the outcome and Frank may well be right about the wide scope of exclusion avoiding the label of discrimination.

    It has been argued that the way round B and Bs being forced to accommodate same sex couples would be for them to offer only single bedrooms. Would this be unsuccessful if discrimination can be against a very wide class? – It could be argued that it would be discriminatory only to accept single clients as that would discriminate against the family life of couples. On the other hand what would be the legal response to an employer who made it a condition for prospective employees that they must not profess any specific political or religious belief or belong to any political or religious organisation?

  2. You don’t need Christmas, though, to hear claims that British Christians are a defenceless persecuted minority. Even the Church of England had the gall recently to claim it was being victimised because cinemas refused to show a poorly made advertisement it had produced, the one that looked a bit like a trailer for The Exorcist IV. (Yes, I am referring here to the poor, disadvantaged Church of England, the one that is by law established with large swathes of the education system under its control and 26 of its clerics in parliament, £6 billion in the bank and the Head of State as its Supreme Governor. A lot of disadvantage there.)

    But there was nothing discriminatory about the refusal of this ad. The cinema chains just didn’t want to show any religious or political advertising. But the CofE thought the rules in this case should be suspended uniquely for them, as they are in so many other areas. They have a sense of entitlement that can be very irritating, not to say arrogant.

    Despite intense pressure from the press, from the Church and from bandwagon-jumping politicians, the agency that declined to take the advertising is sticking to its guns. It has a policy and it isn’t budging. We hope it continues to be resolute in the face of such bullying.

    [Comment by Terry Sanderson on the N.S.S. website]

    Alan Rogers

    • As I’ve already said, nor am I convinced that a general policy of refusing to accept religious or political advertising is discriminatory in such a way as to fall foul of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. But we’ll only find out who’s right if and when a court (not the EHRC, which is an advisory body, not a determinative one) rules on the matter.

      But, of course, it may never get that far.

  3. I realised the other day that DCM’s rule on not accepting advertisements conforms to the unwritten rule in polite middle class society regarding acceptable topics of conversation when invited to dinner. No politics or religion. Strange that this must now be tested in law.

    Alan Rogers

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