A Belfast hotel has apologised unreservedly to a church minister after it forced him to abandon a public meeting supporting traditional marriage.
Revd Harry Coulter said he had been “humiliated” by the Balmoral Hotel in Dunmurry when it halted the pro-marriage meeting and forced the 50 people attending to leave.
With the support of The Christian Institute, Revd Coulter issued legal proceedings against the hotel for unlawful discrimination and breach of contract, but now says he “wholeheartedly accepts” the hotel management’s formal written apology.
In its letter, the hotel’s manager wrote: “On behalf of the owners, management and staff of The Balmoral Hotel, I write to express our sincere regret at the level of service you received at your function held in our Grand Ballroom on 9th October 2019.
“As a hotel we have always sought to serve people without discriminating on the grounds of religion, belief or political opinion. We are therefore disappointed that on the night in question we fell short of that standard.
“As a result, you and your guests were prevented from fully expressing and discussing your beliefs about the law of marriage in Northern Ireland as part of your ‘Marriage Matters’ series. We recognise that the ability to respectfully debate issues on which we hold strong views is fundamental to freedom of speech for all of us.
“We also recognise that the particular way in which this was dealt with was embarrassing for you and inconvenient for your guests. I reassure you that this will never happen again.”
Revd Coulter said he was “very satisfied” with the apology, and welcomed that the hotel had also “committed to retraining their staff to respect human rights, and endorsed the importance of free speech and respectful debate”.
He said: “They have agreed to refund our money, and to pay legal costs. They have done right by us in the end and we appreciate it.”
He added: “I would also like to take this opportunity to thank The Christian Institute for their support, and to encourage Christians who face similar challenges to their religious liberty to contact them for help.”
Tony Rucinski of pro-marriage group Coalition for Marriage was the keynote speaker at the Marriage Matters event. He spoke to Revd Coulter after the hotel apologised.
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert said he is “delighted” for Revd Coulter “that this brings a satisfactory resolution to an unpleasant situation”.
“This is an important reminder that you cannot kick people out of a hotel for supporting traditional marriage.
“We’re confident that, had this case gone to court, Revd Coulter would have won his claim for discrimination. The hotel clearly understood this, and their apology is full and frank and they deserve credit for it.”
Freedom of expression
Calvert continued: “In the current climate of hypersensitivity over people’s opinions, the successful outcome in this case is a welcome restatement of the high value of freedom of belief and freedom of expression for all.
“It’s also a reminder to Christians of the importance of taking a stand and we are thankful to God for another victory to add to The Christian Institute’s long track record of successful cases.
“Mr Coulter’s meeting was a thoughtful discussion about marriage. The law firmly protects the ability to have those discussions and we need to have more of them, conducted with the kind of courtesy which Revd Coulter exemplifies.”