Sinn Féin seeks to block NI conscience clause

Sinn Féin has said it will oppose attempts to introduce a conscience clause in Northern Ireland, claiming it would “undermine equality”.

This comes just weeks after the party’s leader Gerry Adams came under fire for describing equality as a “Trojan Horse” to ‘break’ his political opponents.

On Monday, DUP MLA Paul Givan launched a consultation on his Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill, which seeks to change equality legislation to reasonably accommodate those with strongly held religious convictions.

Religious views

It comes in the wake of the Ashers Baking Company case, involving a Christian family being taken to court by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland over their refusal to provide a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.

Lawyers for Ashers 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.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the conscience clause undermines equality, and that they are “opposed to any dilution of equality legislation”.

Support

However, an editorial in yesterday’s Belfast Newsletter expressed support for Ashers’ stance, and Givan’s proposals.

“It should not be the case that operating a bakery business necessarily means that the outfit is required to add any message to the baked products”, it said.

It concluded the “key distinction” is that “there might be times when it is permissible to reject the message but not the messenger”.

Criticise

But the Belfast Telegraph’s editorial yesterday criticised Givan’s conscience clause bid, saying that “churches, mosques or synagogues are the proper places for people to practise or discuss their religious convictions, and that is where such debates should remain”.

Ballymena Presbytery, which represents more than 20,000 people in the Mid-Antrim area, has accused the Commission of “unethical and improper” use of public money in its pursuit of Ashers Baking Company.

In a statement, the Presbytery called on the Commission “in the strongest possible terms to overturn its flawed decision”.

Related Resources