UK theaters deny 'Just Pray' ad in front of 'Star Wars' screenings

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is at the center of a U.K. theater controversy involving the Lord's Prayer.

The Church of England, which represents a Christian denomination in the country, went on the offensive on Sunday, saying that an ad for its "Just Pray" campaign was denied by large theater chains in the U.K.

"The prospect of a multi-generational cultural event offered by the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on 18 December -- a week before Christmas Day -- was too good an opportunity to miss and we are bewildered by the decision of the cinemas," stated the Church of England's communications director, Rev. Arun Arora, in a release published on its website on Sunday.

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The "Just Pray" spot features a variety of individuals reciting lines from the Lord's Prayer in everyday situations. The ad is part of a newly launched public relations push by the Church of England to familiarize citizens with the concept of prayer, and is part of a social media and web campaign.

The Church says that Odeon Cinemas Group, Vue Entertainment and Cineworld did not accept the minute-long ad to play before Star Wars.

However, Digital Cinema Media, which sells advertising for theater chains in the U.K., includes an advertising policy that bars political or religious spots. Specifically, the policy states: "advertising which wholly or partly advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief) or any part of any religion, faith or such equivalent systems of belief."

Simon Soffe, head of communications for Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group, referred The Hollywood Reporter to DCM policy and declined to comment further. The advertising company also released a new statement addressing the incident.

"DCM has a policy of not accepting 'political or religious advertising' content for use in its cinemas," read the statement from Digital Cinema Media, which was posted on its Twitter account on Sunday. "Some advertisements -- unintentionally or otherwise -- could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions ... as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith. In this regard DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally."

Requests for comment weren't immediately returned from public relations firms listed as representing Vue Entertainment and Cineworld Cinemas.

"In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech," the Rev. Arora said in the Church's statement.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in the U.K. beginning on Dec. 17.

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