Ashers’ defeat at the Court of Appeal risks restricting everyone’s freedom of conscience and speech, a barrister has warned.
Ashers Baking Company was told last month that it had broken the law by declining to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan for LGBT activist Gareth Lee.
Writing for the UK Human Rights Blog, Alasdair Henderson backed comments from newspapers and homosexual rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticising the ruling.
The London-based barrister highlighted that the McArthur family, who run Ashers, did not object to the customer, but to the message on the cake.
Discrimination law is supposed to be about protecting people, not ideas or words.
He noted that the family had “sold baked goods to Mr Lee in the past and (rather graciously, given that he has sued them) made it clear they would be happy to serve him in the future”.
However, the court still ruled against the company – upholding an earlier decision from May 2015.
Henderson said: “Discrimination law is supposed to be about protecting people, not ideas or words”.
He said that the reasoning of the Court of Appeal could have repercussions beyond Ashers, including driving people “with any deeply-held beliefs out of all kinds of businesses”.
“Peter Tatchell, the Guardian and the Telegraph are right; this decision risks significantly restricting freedom of conscience and freedom of speech for all of us.
“There must be a better way of balancing competing rights in a diverse, plural society”, he concluded.
Ashers is continuing to consult with lawyers about what options remain open for appeal.
Lawyers for the McArthur family have written to the Court of Appeal asking for confirmation that no direct route of appeal to the Supreme Court is available.
This is a necessary procedure to preserve the possibility of any future appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. No decision has been made by the family in relation to that option.
Speaking after the ruling, Amy McArthur said that it had been a difficult time, “but God has been our rock and it’s just through our trust in Him that we’ve been able to be unshaken and unmoved by it”.