Christians who have to ditch their faith at work have no real freedom of religion, senior judges have been told in the case of Ashers Baking Company.
Ashers is being sued by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland because its owners, the McArthur family, declined to make a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
Speaking on their behalf today, David Scoffield QC said: “The notion that a Christian can practise their faith on Sundays but must forget it on Monday is not real freedom of religion and certainly not freedom of conscience.”
Ahead of the hearing, Daniel McArthur – Ashers General Manager – spoke of how hard the four year process has been for the family, but added that their Christian faith was sustaining them.
Speaking to the five Supreme Court judges, Scoffield urged the state to recognise the ‘violence’ that can be done to a believer’s conscience.
He said to create the campaign cake was to promote same-sex marriage and stated: “This is a case of forced or compelled speech”.
Correcting misconceptions about the case, Scoffield reminded the court that Ashers turned down the order because of their sincerely held beliefs – not because the customer, activist Gareth Lee, was gay.
It would have been refused to a heterosexual person as well, he noted, a point picked up by judges in the afternoon.
In a lighter moment, Scoffield said that the cake ‘isn’t a person, can’t have a sexual orientation and can’t be discriminated against’.
And he stressed how unusual a request it was – Ashers was making over 1,500 celebration cakes each year for 15 years before they encountered such an order.
The court also heard from Robin Allen QC, representing Gareth Lee and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
Mr Allen acknowledged the public interest issues at stake but he argued there was no right to appeal under laws relating to sexual orientation.
Tomorrow is set to see the conclusion of the hearing, but a result is not expected for some time.