The Church of England said that it may sue the three largest cinema chains in the UK after they banned a 60-second advert promoting prayer.
The short film Just Pray was passed with a U certificate by the British Board of Film Classification and received clearance from the Cinema Advertising Authority.
But Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles British film advertising for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, which run almost 300 of the 750 cinemas in the UK rejected the advert because they said it would "offend" audiences.
The Church of England planned to run the advert before the new Star Wars film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opens in cinemas across the UK on 17 December.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, branded the decision “offensive”.
He said in a statement on Sunday that the film, which depicts ordinary people reciting the Lord's Prayer, was “about as offensive as a carol service”.
"I find it extraordinary that cinemas rule that it is inappropriate for an advert on prayer to be shown in the week before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Welby.
"Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. I think they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision, especially in the light of the terrorist attack in Paris where many people have found comfort and solace in prayer.
"This advert is about as 'offensive' as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day. As a church we are a Jesus movement and this is the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples.
"I think people need to watch the film and come to their own conclusions as to whether it is offensive or upsetting. Let the public judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to."
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The advert is for the Church of England website JustPray.uk which encourages people to understand prayer and to post their prayers on any subject. The site has prayers on all subjects including poverty, for forgiveness, for those mourning a love one, and for those caught up in the Paris terrorist attacks.
More than 2.6m prayers have been logged so far and the banned film has been watched on YouTube more than 200,000 times since it was posted on 21 November, two days ago.
The Just Pray advert has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube in its first two days
Rev Arun Arora, the director of communications for the Church of England, said that the ban will have a “chilling” effect on free speech in the UK.
“In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly,” Rev Arora said, “but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech.
"There is still time for the cinemas to change their mind and we would certainly welcome that.”
The Bible Society said that the irony was that Star Wars is about spirituality.
Paul Woolley, deputy chief executive, said: ‘There are layers of irony in this decision, since the films that people themselves watch in the cinema are full of religion and politics with which they engage with either consciously or unconsciously.’
“The Star Wars film, which the adverts precede, asks whether technology is the greatest power in the Universe controlling human destiny or the ‘force’ – a spiritual gift harnessed by the Jedi.’
“From extolling the virtues of the Saintly [Babette’s Feast] to the courage of leadership [The King’s Speech] and exposing political corruption [Nixon] movies do religion and politics.
“More recently, cinemas have done Bible too with blockbuster stories such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings.”