Legislators have “abandoned two of the fundamental principles that underpin our democracy and our liberties”, an assistant editor for The Telegraph has said.
Commenting in the wake of the Ashers Baking Company judgment, Philip Johnston said the outcome shows successive Governments have abandoned “freedom of expression and equality under the law”.
On Monday, judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by declining to decorate a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Back in 2007 The Christian Institute warned that the Sexual Orientation Regulations used against Ashers could endanger Christian businesses.
In a scathing article published yesterday, Johnston argued that: “MPs and Peers, the supposed custodians of our liberties, have connived to diminish them.”
He wrote that in Northern Ireland, “gay marriage remains illegal, as it was in the rest of the UK until five years ago.
“People are entitled to have a view on whether it should be permissible without the law interfering, otherwise we are entering the Orwellian realms of Thoughtcrime”.
Criticising the judgment itself, he added that some beliefs “are now more equal than others”.
“Our legislators seem to have forgotten to ensure equality of treatment when making the law, just as they blithely disregard the importance of free speech”, he said.
In 2007, the Institute opposed the introduction of Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) in Northern Ireland.
The SORs outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services. In some areas they clash directly with religious freedom.
A 2007 briefing on the regulations warned that: “A printing firm owned by a Christian could face legal action for refusing to print ‘gay rights’ literature” and that a “Christian website designer could be taken to court for refusing to design a pro-homosexual website”.
The Christian Institute predicted that: “Christians will have to defend themselves in court for no other reason than their religious beliefs on sexual ethics”.
Today, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute Simon Calvert noted that the warnings have proved “sadly prophetic”.
“Almost a decade ago we warned that SORs would affect the right of Christians to live out their faith in the workplace. Sadly this has proved true.”
The McArthur family and The Christian Institute, which provided legal support for them, will be taking legal advice to see what options for appeal remain open.