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Censorship Movies Star Wars Prequels United Kingdom Entertainment Politics

Richard Dawkins Opposes UK Cinemas Censoring Church's Advert Before Star Wars (theguardian.com) 319

An anonymous reader writes: A controversy has erupted in the United Kingdom following the decision of the three theatre chains that control 80% of the movie screens in the country to refuse to show an advertisement for the Anglican church. The 60 second advertisement is for a new Church of England website, JustPray.uk, the purpose of which is to encourage people to pray. The Odeon, Cineworld and Vue chains refused to allow it to be shown due to a policy not allowing political or religious advertising. Richard Dawkins supported the Church on free speech grounds, stating, "I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might 'offend' people. If anybody is 'offended' by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended." Dawkins was joined by fellow atheist, Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston in backing the right of the Church to show the advertisement, stating "As a gentle atheist, I'm not offended by Church screening gentle cinema adverts; we shouldn't reject our deep cultural roots in Christianity." The assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said he was "flabbergasted" by the decision to refuse to show it. The National Secular Society found it a "perfectly reasonable decision." The Anglican church had wanted to show the advert prior to the screening of the upcoming Star Wars movie given the expected large, multi-generational audiences.
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Richard Dawkins Opposes UK Cinemas Censoring Church's Advert Before Star Wars

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  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:20PM (#51009029) Homepage

    If the cinemas really had a policy not to allow religious or political advertising in place before they were asked to run the ads, and if they've applied that policy consistently, then I don't think they should run the ads.

    I wouldn't particularly be bothered by such an ad even though I'm a Dawkins-esque strong atheist. But if you're going to have a policy it has to be applied uniformly.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 26, 2015 @03:21PM (#51009297)

      Now I'm mildly curious whether a literal reading of their policy would apply to Star Wars adverts as well, given that Jediism is a recognized religion in that country. I'm quite certain they wouldn't actually ban those.

      • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @04:35PM (#51009601) Homepage

        I don't think Star Wars ads promote prayer or the Jedi religion, though.

        But even though as I said I'm a hard-core atheist, I'd pray all day if I thought it would stop George Lucas from ever making another fucking movie.

        • The Jedi religion onyl exists because of Star Wars films. And SW films or adverts for those films are obviously going to be huge adverts for the church.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Haha, yes.

        I've had this discussion with a militant atheist friend who sees no irony in banning these ads before a SW movie.

        Him: "Ban the ads. When I go to the cinema I shouldn't have to pay to have my kids brainwashed by a cult."
        Me: "But youÂre quite happy to brainwash your 7yo kids for 2 1/2 hours on the ways of the Jedi?"
        Him: "But Star Wars is make-believe, no one takes it seriously as a religion."
        Me: "Tell that to the thousands of people who put Jedi as their religion on the census."
        Him: "Mate, it's

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Sure ban some ads but don't ban others, the ad seemed pretty reasonable and should have been tested upon it's own merits ie a broad range of people of many nationalities with a very broad demographic sharing faith. Jedi was on my census form and will continue to be so for as long as I live (although the appropriateness of the question being questionable and a government official threatening to penalise people if they wrote it it, might have had considerable bearing on that response).

        • "Again, tell that to the thousands of believers who put Jedi on their census as a way of giving the middle finger to Richard Dawkins' atheist zealotry

          I don't think anyone has ever been thinking of Richard Dawkins when they've put Jedi down as their religion. I'm sure that they're doing it as a middle finger to the Church.

          • I don't think anyone has ever been thinking of Richard Dawkins when they've put Jedi down as their religion. I'm sure that they're doing it as a middle finger to the Church.

            If so, it's poorly aimed. I think the Church would be aware of the fact that there are people who hold to a different set of beliefs the contradict with theirs. Lot's of Christians die every week because of the simple fact that there are people who disagree with them.

            From their perspective Jedism is just another crazy, discredited belief. Just like you, and the supposed Jedi's, Christians think that all such beliefs are wrong - expect their own. Why is Jedism an insult to Christianity but not yours? Becau

      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        It shouldn't otherwise ads for everything from the "Passion of the Christ" to "Steve Almighty" would cross that line.

        But I don't think they do, they are advertising the movie, not the faith itself, and I think its pretty reasonable and easy to tell one from the other.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They have had the policy in place for some time and they do apply it consistently. The Church is employing a very clever advertising campaign which has resulted in them being plastered across the world. They literally could not have paid for better advertising than they've received off the back of this very clever campaign.

      • by godel_56 ( 1287256 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @05:31PM (#51009773)

        They have had the policy in place for some time and they do apply it consistently. The Church is employing a very clever advertising campaign which has resulted in them being plastered across the world. They literally could not have paid for better advertising than they've received off the back of this very clever campaign.

        In a TV story on this they said that the church had discussed the campaign with the advertising agents in the middle of the year and the agents had no problem with it then, so just when was this policy introduced?

        If the policy was in place when the church first approached the theaters and the church wasn't warned, then I think they have a right to ask for their production costs back

    • Exactly. I'm pro-free-speech and against censorship of ideas, even if they're crazy and upsetting ideas. But you are allowed to not run ads in a private venue. That is the flip-side of free speech that people who don't really believe in free speech fail to understand. You are free to offend people, and they are free to choose not to listen to you, or to give you a platform for your ideas. You are free to camp out in front of the cinema and preach if you want. That's absolutely your right. But you can't insi

      • I don't think he was upset about it - he just tweeted about it initially as he thought it was a free speech issue. He then deleted it when people pointed out that it was more of a commercial decision, as you yourself have pointed out.

        There's a stronger case for claiming that the Anglican Church is part of Britain's cultural identity rather than any other religion, but to be honest I'd be surprised at seeing any advert for any religion in the cinema. Dawkins does describe himself as a "cultural Anglican" s
        • That's another thing about Dawkins that I find kind of unsettling and in conflict with his atheist message. He says that he likes the CofE because it's part of tradition and history, and is a tolerant establishment. That's all well and good. I prefer the CofE to, say, Catholicism or Southern Baptism, for precisely the same reason. But I think you should apply that kind of reasoning consistently. He's said that “I don’t buy the feeling that because we have Christian faith schools we therefore hav

    • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @04:16PM (#51009525)
      How can one possibly be opposed to a church that was founded by someone that wanted to divorce and murder his wives? The church of England shows the true value of religion.
      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        I thought it was that he wanted to divorce instead of having one of his wives executed. Of course one of the main motivations was the traditionally Christian one of acquiring wealth and power to prove that you're worthy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven as obviously God rewards the faithful with riches and a variety of wives and punishes the unfaithful with poverty and a nagging shrew for a wife.

    • If it's their policy, then the policy should be changed. You're either in favor of free speech or you're not. At least Dawkins is being consistent.

      What's your excuse?
    • I was going to post dskoll's post, but worded badly.

      Now I don't need to bother. Thanks dskoll.

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:21PM (#51009033)

    Free speech is only about governmental intrusion and obstacle to speech. This is not about private person (cinema) telling the church , "no we do not want your advertising". It is incredible how many people bring "free speech!" up in conversation where it is not warranted.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's incredible how many people confuse the universal principle of freedom of speech with the 1st amendment.

      • And even that doesn't mean that *I* (or any other entity) need to retransmit your speech. It's just a guess, but if this were an Islamic or Jewish religious message I'd bet Mr Dawkins wouldn't have much to say about it being blocked.

        NO religious or political messages is a reasonable policy so long as they don't start picking and choosing.

        Personally of rather see no f***ing ads at all. In a theatre where I paid money to see a show, 10-15m of ads is disgusting.

        • In a theatre where I paid money to see a show, 10-15m of ads is disgusting.

          Obvious solution: Show up 10-15 minutes later, and you won't see them.

          • That's not a practical solution -- good luck getting *good* seats then. That said, this only works once the movie has been out for 2 weeks and you go during the day when the place is mostly empty.

            • Are you telling me that theatres in the UK don't have assigned seating? They have a it at a few theatres where I live. It's the only way I'll go see a movie. That, or like you said, wait until a few weeks when the crowds have died down and be assured a good seat. But if it's a popular movie and the movie has just been released then I don't mind paying a couple extra dollars for reserved seating.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        It's incredible how many people confuse the universal principle of freedom of speech with the 1st amendment.

        That's because only the First Amendment provides a clear and consistent articulation of what "free speech" actually means:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        The US Con

    • Wrong, wrong, you could not be more wrong. The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights (which doesn't even apply here obviously) is the legal mandate of the Enlightenment concept of Free Speech which goes far beyond what I could describe in a short reply.

      It is sad and sickening to see so called liberals slowing becoming the greatest opponents of a marketplace of ideas, of free discussion and debate, of taking and understanding rather than mandating like the worst fascists of the 20th century

      • The fact that you are free to say what you want does not mean that I am under any obligation to offer you a platform to speak from. I support the right of these cinemas to not run ads they think might cause trouble, even if I agree with Dawkins that it is wrong to pander to the perennially indignant in this way. Thankfully people or businesses are still free to make their own wrong decisions.

        A big problem with free speech issues is that a lot of people seem not to understand the difference between allo
        • How far apart is "we sell advertising space but not to the likes of you " from "we rent rooms but not to the likes of you "?

          If you offer something in commerce, do you think it is proper to refuse that offer to anyone who is part of the same society that allows you to prosper?

          • by dskoll ( 99328 )

            The theatre chain is not objecting to who is trying to run ads. They're objecting to the content of the ads.

            I'm sure if the Church of England paid for an ad about, oh, I dunno, cars or running shoes, the theatre chain would be happy to run it.

          • It's more like: "we rent rooms but not if you're having a drunken blowout with wall to wall vomiting in them". Can a hotel refuse service to people because of their beliefs? They can if those people are for example preaching in the lobby, but otherwise no. Can a christian hotel refuse service to an unmarried couple if they belief that couple will have sex at the hotel? Kind of a borderline case... I'd say no because by accepting the couple the hotel is not forced to speak in a voice they find objection
      • by khasim ( 1285 )

        The First Amendment to the ...

        Correct.

        It is sad and sickening to see so called liberals ...

        Also correct.

        BUT ... it does not matter. In the end it is up to the business whether it will run X or not.

        By way of example: if I paid you $10 to put a sign on your lawn saying X would it be wrong for you to refuse to put a sign saying Y on your lawn for $10?

        And that's where we are at with this. The theatres refuse all religious / political ads. That way they do not endorse X or Y. Nor can they be seen as supporting Y

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:43PM (#51009139)

      It is incredible how many people bring "free speech!" up in conversation where it is not warranted.

      It's actually more incredible how many people think that freedom of speech is only a concept in relation to governmental restrictions on communication.

      Obviously private party restrictions on speech aren't a violation of 1st Amendment rights, but it should be more than obvious that freedom of speech can be threatened by private restrictions on speech by refusing access to media, venues or physical places which are commonly accepted as public spaces.

      • by Rhapsody Scarlet ( 1139063 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:56PM (#51009189) Homepage

        Obviously private party restrictions on speech aren't a violation of 1st Amendment rights, but it should be more than obvious that freedom of speech can be threatened by private restrictions on speech by refusing access to media, venues or physical places which are commonly accepted as public spaces.

        Well it can be, but it seems to me that this is a pretty poor case to try and apply this principle. The Church of England tried their luck, probably suspecting that they would get rejected, got rejected, uploaded their ad to YouTube instead, got their story in the newspapers, on television, and even on Slashdot now, and likely got a far larger audience than they would have had they not got rejected in the first place.

        The principle of freedom of speech is certainly a good thing but it is not the only right in the mix. Companies controlling their platforms also have the right to not be compelled into carrying speech they disagree with. This is why it's important that there be numerous platforms, so anyone rejected from one can just go to another and find someone willing to broadcast what they want to say. That way both rights can be upheld and everyone should be happy. That's exactly what has happened in this case so I'm shedding no tears for anyone. The system is working, I see no reason for anyone to be complaining.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          It's a purely commercial decision. People hate the cinema experience enough already, with the fake start times and the sticky seats and the annoying ads. I'm order to make sure enough people will tolerate it they have to avoid any kind of controversial ads, which means no politics and no religion.

      • It is incredible how many people bring "free speech!" up in conversation where it is not warranted.

        It's actually more incredible how many people think that freedom of speech is only a concept in relation to governmental restrictions on communication.

        Obviously private party restrictions on speech aren't a violation of 1st Amendment rights, but it should be more than obvious that freedom of speech can be threatened by private restrictions on speech by refusing access to media, venues or physical places which are commonly accepted as public spaces.

        uh, what? what does the first amendment to the US constitution have to do with a group of british theater owners deciding what can and can't be seen on their theater screens, which are located in Britain, and not in the US?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      If you made some kind of public statement and your employer/landlord/bank called you up and said it's not compatible with being an employee/tenant/customer of ours anymore I think most people would call it a free speech issue. Granted, we're not really being consistent because half the time we want to protect dissenting opinions from the wrath of the majority and the other half we want obnoxious and offensive speech to have consequences. Like when Brendan Eich was forced to step down as CEO of Mozilla, was

    • On the contrary. Societal attitudes to free speech do matter.
      Only in some kind of pure libertarian world would what you say be the end all. But we don't live in that world.

      You can't just deny someone's business because you don't want it.
      We live in a world where anti-discrimination is a big thing and is regulated. We live in a world where the channels of speech (Internet, tv, newspaper, movies...) are all considered outlets of speech and validly should not discriminate.

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @03:10PM (#51009257) Homepage
      "Free speech" in a legal sense is indeed only about governmental intrusion, and the definition is largely specific to the US, so mentioning it for a UK matter is already not particularly relevant. It's not like Dawkins is claiming that what they are doing is illegal either.

      What Dawkins is talking about is the principle, the ideal of free speech. That is applicable to anything and anyone, anywhere. You can most certainly decry a lack of free speech in any situation, even when concerning private corporations.
      • "What Dawkins is talking about is the principle, the ideal of free speech. "

        But even the most far out ideal of free speech DO NOT require private party to endorse and repeat your own opinion or speech. This is why free speech , freedom of expression , liberté d'expression and such like are always about governmental restriction. You and me and any other have no right to force other private party to carry our speech or get it heard. I repeat, the church, Dawkins, me aepervius or you nemyst have a
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      So you should have the right to have whites only stores. Put personal pressure on all your friends to only have whites only stores. And make sure you don't sell your house to a non-white person. Because all that worked out so well before.
    • Free speech concerns do not apply to private companies, and in fact forcing a company to carry some speech it does not want to carry would be a violation of its rights too. But that is true only when there is competition and alternatives available for the patrons. When group of companies that collectively control a significant chunk of their market act in a discriminatory manner they can be compelled. This was the logic used in enforcing de segregation and civil rights laws on private companies all over Ji
      • by Nikkos ( 544004 )

        "Free speech concerns do not apply to private companies, and in fact forcing a company to carry some speech it does not want to carry would be a violation of its rights too"

        It really should though, if the company in question gets a large percentage of their revenue from government.

        personally I'm all more making the First Amendment viral in that sense - get government money, have to follow constitutional restrictions and/or allow for constitutional rights.

    • Exactly. Free speech means you can't face legal consequences for what you say. That was a revolutionary concept in its time, as most governments throughout history made it a major offense - often punishable by death or extreme torture - to criticize the government in any way. The idea that you could live under a government and face no consequences whatsoever for even the harshest words against that government was a mind-blowing concept. Thankfully, nowadays its a routine and expected concept, so we aren't b

    • Dawkins acknowledged that point; FTFA:

      He told the Guardian: “My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.

  • I watched the ad, and just like the Anglican Church itself, it's pretty wishy-washy and ineffective. I expect audiences are more likely to hoot with derision than get offended.

    • The Church of England is supposed to be wishy-washy. It was built that way from the Elizabethan Compromise forward. It's a big wishy washy mishmash that's supposed to attract everyone from near-Nonconformist types to Crypto-Catholics.

  • by narcc ( 412956 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:24PM (#51009051) Journal

    Not content with being reviled near-universally, Dawkins seeks the ire of the few crazy extremists who still take him seriously.

  • by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @02:25PM (#51009059) Homepage
    ...what really will happen is that in a few years the advertisements will be full of religious propaganda and proselytizing. Allowing _one_ advertisement is fine, but it opens the door to a whole slew of continually-worsening ads. And being "protected religious speech" they will contain other messages, such as anti-Israel, pro-Sharia, neo-Nazi, and anti-Muslim messages. The competition will be fierce!

    Of course, the same could be said about any type of advertising. But by experience the religious nutcases' ads will be far worse than the for-profit corporations' ads.
    • so what? we already have paid religious ads on TV, radio, newspapers in the USA. it doesn't matter

      • The difference is that you can change the channel on the TV, change the radio station or read a different article in the newspaper. In a movie theatre there is no option to turn the advertisement off. The audience is captive.

    • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

      Well, just to start with, they could cut that short by limiting it to ads for the official state religion.

      (Do please remember that we're discussing England here, not the US.)

  • For one, this is a private entity, and they are censoring on a fair grounds. But, probably more importantly, cinema is different that most other media in this regard in that you have a pseudo captive audience. You, as a movie watcher, can't change the channel, can't mute it, and even walking away is going to take you probably more time than the ad runs for. With religion being one of those things that can REALLY upset people, I think the chains are doing the only intelligent thing they can in the situati
  • Pray for God to miraculously switch the advertising disks.

  • The advertising slot right before Star Wars has got to be just about the most valuable ad space in all of cinema. I'd guess it's more likely that the Anglican church did not want to or could not afford to (They're not exactly Catholic rich, after all.) pay the rate that the slot is worth; and the "don't want to offend people"is some PR flack's notion of trying to save face and make the theater chain look less capitalist.

  • According to the post, we have the opinions of the Anglican church, Richard Dawkins, Sarah Wollaston, the Muslim Council of Britain and even the National Secular Society...but has anyone asked the Jedi?
  • ...with worrying about possibly getting someone offended. I'm totally with Dawkins on this one.

    • Normally I tend to think Dawkins is bit of a dick (And I say that as someone who is also a rusted on atheist) but yeah.

      A lot of liberals seem terminally worried about offending with religion , but its not clear whos getting offended.

      Most atheists , me included, take a live-and-let-live approach to religion. Its fine as long as its not going after me. The muslims are 99% of the time completely OK with christianity (Seriously, Jesus is their second most important prophet) , Jews are non evangelical and pretty

  • I'm running AdBlock on my glasses.

  • If the net is cast that wide and applies to religious and political potential ads, then I don't see Dawkins problem. It doesn't sound like they're taking a stance against that church, it sounds like they want to provide a certain experience to their costumers, and that ad didn't meet those requisites. There's nothing to agree or disagree with here other than whether their criteria for ads are beneficial for their bottom line or not.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's the Star Wars movie. They're just asking you to pray that it'll be better than the last three.

    I'm a strong atheist, and I'd do that shit.

  • Dawkins has been hard to pin down lately.
  • I recall a controversy here in the US when an atheist group wanted to run some Superbowl/subway advertisements. Religious groups instantly began claiming persecution. I'm all for allowing one religious group to advertise, as long as they don't have a hissy fit whenever another group chooses to do so.

  • by rhazz ( 2853871 ) on Thursday November 26, 2015 @04:23PM (#51009565)
    When you gather a bunch of strangers in an enclosed space and you want everyone to sit quietly and enjoy the show, you don't throw out the suggestion that they start talking about a hot-button issue like religion or politics. People get defensive about that stuff, and it's common enough for people to talk about the ad that just played. I doubt many people would be offended by the ad itself, but it's easy enough to imagine some person in the audience seeing the ad, and in the quiet moment after the ad muttering something about religion X, or politician Y, when they didn't realize the guy sitting next to them is a die-hard X-worshipping Y-supporter.
    • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

      By that logic, advertisements for sports should be banned as well. I suspect that mentioning Arsenal is about 10x more likely to generate an actual fight than mentioning the Church of England.

      • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
        If it was actually likely to cause a problem then maybe it should. The only ads I can recall seeing at the theatre are either for retail (cars usually), other movies, or travel destinations. Pretty safe material, though I suppose a BMW commercial might infuriate some folks these days!
  • While I appreciate Richard's rational observations, about this matter of principle I'd rather not have to put up with any form of annoyance if I have to pay for it.

    Then again perhaps religious advertising before a movie would help you suspend your sense of disbelief thereby making the cinematic fiction more immersive.
  • All the Church needs to do is turn this into a full-length film, then this can be the trailer.

  • anyone that knows advertisers (or publishers, in this case) know that the premium spot (which a 60s ad before the season block buster is) will never the turned down. Those are the bread winers for any ad publisher.

    what those premium spots do have are extras. i bet this one has a "for 10% more you get the premium spot with some controversy!"

  • by macbeth66 ( 204889 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @01:26PM (#51013925)

    The only thing offensive about any of this, is that they show any ads at all. I paid to see the movie, not your ads. Now, if you want to show ads at the beginning and that lets me in for free, then I'm all for it. Otherwise, bugger off.

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