An equality watchdog has been warned it will face an avalanche of cases if it wins its civil action against a Christian-owned bakery in Northern Ireland which refused to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.
A leading human rights QC has written a legal opinion on the matter which goes before the courts next week.
Aidan O’Neill QC has outlined the dramatic consequences which could follow if Ashers Baking Company loses.
And the implications could impact a huge number of businesses that may decide to turn away custom based on their firmly-held beliefs.
Ashers is being dragged through the courts for refusing to make a cake with the words “Support Gay Marriage”.
O’Neill states that if Ashers loses there would also be no defence to similar actions being taken against other businesses in any of the following scenarios:
- A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of Mohammed
- An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
- A Christian film company refusing to produce a “female-gaze/feminist” erotic film
- A Christian baker refusing to take an order to make a cake celebrating Satanism
- A T-shirt company owned by lesbians declining to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”
- A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Ashers, commissioned the legal opinion.
Colin Hart, Director of the Institute, said Ashers can only lose the case if discrimination law is wrongly applied and free speech rights under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights are set aside.
He said: “This is a truly alarming case with far-reaching implications for freedom of speech. It’s wrong for the law to force people to say things they don’t believe.
“Ashers were asked to create a cake that promotes gay marriage. But people should be free to disagree.
“It’s wrong to force people to use their creative skills to promote a cause they fundamentally disagree with.
“Ashers serve gay customers all the time. But they didn’t want to promote gay marriage.
Second class citizens
“This is about taking issue with the message not the messenger. It’s about principles not personalities. The ECNI say it’s about discrimination.
“They are correct as it is Ashers which is being discriminated against for the Christian views of the owners.
“Instead of promoting equality, the ECNI want to make people who believe in traditional marriage second class citizens.”
Ashers has the backing of The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.
Mr Hart said: “We have been delighted with the generous public response since our appeal for help in January. But we require all the financial assistance we can receive, especially as this case may go to appeal. We again urge the public to help us help Ashers and others like them.”
If you’d like to make a donation to the Legal Defence Fund, please do so here.