‘Vital’ Ashers case revisited by Radio 4

The Ashers case has been revisited on BBC Radio 4, as part of legal programme Law in Action.

Yesterday the case, which has generated global interest, was critiqued by legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg in a feature called ‘Gay Cake’.

Rozenberg sought different perspectives on the case but heard a strong defence of the McArthur family’s stance from both Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of The Christian Institute, and journalist Fionola Meredith.

Message

The McArthur family, who own and run Ashers Baking Company, are appealing against a ruling last year which said they broke the law by declining to decorate a cake with a pro same-sex marriage campaign slogan.

During the Radio 4 Programme, freelance writer and former academic Fionola Meredith said it is “really important” to remember the customer’s sexuality did not factor in the McArthur family’s decision.

She said the “cake request was refused not because Gareth Lee the customer was gay but because of the message he asked for. That’s a really crucial distinction for me”.

Precedent

She continued: “Something really vital is at stake, the freedom to act in accordance with your own beliefs. If this original verdict stands a company will be under obligation, any company, to facilitate the dissemination of beliefs that they reject.”

Meredith argued that bakeries and printers will become “the new frontline of culture wars” if the original ruling was to stand, adding that it will set a “precedent”.

Something really vital is at stake, the freedom to act in accordance with your own beliefs

Fionola Meredith

The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert described the case as a David and Goliath battle, commenting that it saw a “six million pound a year publicly-funded body, with all of its many staff and lawyers pointing all of its armoury at a little Christian bakery”.

Intervention

He said that a lot of people question why the Equality Commission got involved in an issue which involves “obliging the McArthur family and Ashers bakery to help promote a particular cause”.

Mr Calvert concluded by stressing that the McArthurs’ actions were based on their opposition to same-sex marriage, and quoted Daniel McArthur as saying: “If my granny came in and ordered this cake she would have got the same answer.”

Ashers’ appeal against last year’s ruling was set to be heard on 3 February but was adjourned after a last-minute intervention from Northern Ireland’s Attorney General over the constitutional validity of the regulations on which the case is based.

Reasonable accommodation

In May 2015, Judge Brownlie ruled that Ashers Baking Company broke sexual orientation and political discrimination laws.

The Christian Institute is backing this case, which demonstrates the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly-held beliefs.

The case will return to court on 9 May 2016.

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