The Belfast Telegraph has said an equality watchdog’s court action against a Christian-owned bakery is “ill-judged” and lacks “common sense”.
The editorial said the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s case against Ashers Baking Company “cannot win in the court of public opinion no matter what the legal outcome”.
The Commission is taking the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, to court because they declined to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake last year.
The editorial referred to a new legal opinion from leading human rights QC Aidan O’Neill, who warned that the Commission could face a huge number of cases if Ashers loses next week.
He outlined the kind of cases that could end up in court, such as a Muslim printer refusing to print cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, and a T-shirt company owned by lesbians declining to print clothes with anti-gay marriage slogans.
“Human rights legislation is often sneered at but in this instance it does appear to be on the side of common sense”, the editorial said.
The newspaper added: “To the lay person it does seem incredible that a firm can end up in the dock essentially for refusing to endorse an action – gay marriage – which is not yet legal in Northern Ireland.”
“The more we look at the decision by the Equality Commission to bring a bakery to court because it refused on deeply held religious grounds to supply a customer with a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage message, the more ill-judged it appears”, the editorial stated.
It also highlighted the “groundswell of opposition” to the legal action, and noted that the main Churches in the Province have united in support of Ashers.
The newspaper concluded: “We cannot reach the situation where people are forced to espouse ideals or causes that run contrary to their own legitimate beliefs. That is where we are heading at present.”
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has spoken out about the need for reasonable accommodation for people to live according to their deeply-held beliefs.
A spokesman said: “As a Church we feel there is a need to provide better protection for people to exercise the right to freedom of conscience in the public square.
“A state does not act with respect for personal freedoms and diversity if it requires citizens, whether they are acting in a commercial capacity or not, to produce material which directly conflicts with their core beliefs and values.”