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.