Media warns of damage to free speech after Ashers loss

National newspapers have raised concerns about the ruling against the Christian-run bakery that declined to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.

The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Daily Express and the Belfast Telegraph expressed sympathy for Ashers’ owners, the McArthurs, who were told yesterday that their actions amounted to discrimination.

Pro-LGBT broadcaster and journalist Fionola Meredith said the ruling was about “silencing and punishing those who refuse to sign up to a clearly-flawed ‘equality’ agenda”.

Freedom

The Daily Telegraph asked “should freedom of conscience always be trumped by anti-discrimination rights?”

It said a higher court should “look at this again or Parliament should revisit the law”.

The Daily Mail commented that the case “raises profound and worrying questions about the balance between gay and religious rights”.

It also criticised the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for pursuing what it called a “spiteful prosecution”.

Unease

The Belfast Telegraph said that, “along with many Christians reading the verdict of the court, we are filled with a sense of unease”.

It does appear, it added, “that there is a hierarchy of rights as the bakery owners were obliged in law to act against their genuine beliefs”.

“No one seriously suggests that the bakery owners are bigots. Many people may disagree with their views on gay relationships but surely they are entitled to hold those views”, the newspaper commented.

Stand alongside

Fionola Meredith, a Belfast Telegraph columnist who has spoken in support of Ashers before, also said: “If Ashers had refused to serve Gareth Lee, the LGBT activist who ordered the cake, because he was gay, then that would have been a clear act of discrimination, and the bakery’s owners would have deserved to be prosecuted and fined.

“But that’s not what happened. The message, not the customer, was the problem for Ashers.”

She said she is in favour of same-sex marriage, but stated that “in this instance, my own intellectual and moral conscience compels me to stand alongside the Christian bakers”.

Thankful to God

The result was also reported abroad, with articles in The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

The New York Times article concluded with words from Daniel McArthur, Ashers’ General Manager, ahead of the result being released by the judge.

He said the family were thankful to God “who has been faithful to us through it, and we know that He’ll continue to help us bear this burden as we go forward in the future”.

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