Ashers: MLA in equality law ‘conscience clause’ bid
Tue, 25 Nov 2014
An MLA is seeking to introduce a “conscience clause” in Northern Ireland, in response to an equality quango’s legal action against a Christian-run bakery in the Province.
The DUP’s Paul Givan wants to amend equality legislation through his private member’s Bill, in order to avoid similar cases in the future.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is taking Ashers Baking Company to court after its Christian owners, the McArthur family, refused to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
’People of faith’
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson announced the proposals for a conscience clause at the DUP party conference on Saturday.
He said that the balance of rights and equality issues is increasingly “tipped against people of faith”, which has been recently demonstrated by the “treatment meted out to the Ashers Baking Company”.
“There will often be competing rights and freedoms but, nobody should be compelled or coerced into supporting, sanctioning or promoting views or opinions which conflict with their strongly held religious convictions.
“The publicly-funded Equality Commission has launched an unjustified attack on a small Christian family business. This is simply bullying”, he added.
Robinson said the Commission wants to use the Ashers case “to add a further layer of restrictions on Christian behaviour and practice”.
The DUP collected donations towards Ashers Baking Company’s legal defence costs during the conference.
Paul Givan said that his Bill is needed in order to provide clarity in the law.
He commented: “Equality is about ensuring that everybody in society is allowed to live out their lives.
“We now are heading towards a community where it’s not just about live and let live – people are now saying, ‘you need to affirm my particular lifestyle and if that goes against your conscience, you have to do that’.
“That’s not equality; that’s intolerance”, he added.
Givan said he is launching a consultation on the private member’s Bill.
Lawyers for Ashers Baking Company deny that they breached any laws, but a conscience clause would help to prevent similar cases being brought in the future against people with firmly-held religious views.
The Deputy President of the UK’s Supreme Court has suggested that the law should reasonably accommodate people with religious beliefs.
Speaking earlier this year, Lady Hale said, “it is not difficult to see why the Christians feel that their religious beliefs are not being sufficiently respected.”
She argued: “Instead of all the technicalities which EU law has produced, would it not be a great deal simpler if we required the providers of employment, goods and services to make reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of others?”