A consultation on introducing a ‘conscience clause’ in Northern Ireland has been launched today, in a move welcomed by The Christian Institute.
Paul Givan wants to table a Private Member’s Bill to amend equality legislation in light of the Ashers Baking Company case, involving a Christian family facing court for refusing to provide a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
Givan wrote in today’s Belfast Newsletter: “My Bill would mean that ‘reasonable accommodation’ would be made in certain tightly defined circumstances.
“This would allow our society to make space for difference that encourages a tolerant society allowing people of faith equality of opportunity to contribute and participate fully in our community.”
He added: “This Private Member’s Bill can contribute to creating a society that is tolerant and respectful by making reasonable accommodation for people to live their lives according to their conscience.”
Lawyers for Ashers Baking Company deny that they breached any laws, but a conscience clause would help to prevent similar cases being brought in the future against people with firmly-held religious views.
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Ashers, is pleased the DUP is looking into this “vital” issue.
Director Colin Hart commented: “We have long called for the law to allow for ‘reasonable accommodation’ of people’s strongly held religious beliefs.
“Paul Givan MLA’s consultation is an important first step in the discussion on how best to protect religious liberty.
“For our part, we think the focus of the protection should be on family-run businesses, where the work is inseparable from the people behind the business.
“Whether it is a baker or a B&B, there ought to be a respect for their beliefs on those rare occasions where doing what the customer wants would force them into a moral compromise. In those circumstances, we think the law must respect their freedom of conscience.”
He referred to the cases of registrar Lillian Ladele and police chaplain Revd Brian Ross who were both pushed out of their roles over their views on traditional marriage.
Mr Hart urged the parties in Westminster to introduce their own versions of this legislation to protect Christians and those of faith from being discriminated against for their views.
“As Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court pointed out, our country is ‘less respectful’ of people of faith, despite our deep-rooted Christian heritage.”
“As we gear up for a General Election, I would urge all political parties to look carefully at what is happening in Northern Ireland and bring forward similar protections.
“If they do not, then those of faith will continue to face being marginalised for their beliefs and be forced to choose between their career and their conscience”, he concluded.