A new poll in Northern Ireland has revealed overwhelming support for the right to freedom of expression, ahead of the court case against Ashers Baking Company later this week.
The ComRes survey showed that 90 per cent of voters say equality laws “should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose”.
The poll, commissioned by The Christian Institute, has been published ahead of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s (ECNI) case against Ashers which is due to be heard in Belfast County Court later this week.
Ashers declined to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake last year.
The research also found that only 27 per cent of NI adults think it is right for the ECNI to take Ashers to court, while 71 per cent disagree.
And 77 per cent believe the ECNI should not be spending public funds pursuing Ashers through the courts.
Respondents, who were from all faiths and none, were given various scenarios and asked whether there should be grounds for taking someone to court. The poll showed that:
The ComRes poll measured opinion among 1,000 adults in Northern Ireland.
Welcoming the massive show of public support and sympathy for Ashers, The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart said: “This poll shows that people of all faiths and none in Northern Ireland want to live in a tolerant society where the right to freedom of speech, thought and expression are protected.
“In bringing the case against Ashers bakery the ECNI is trying to deny people these fundamental rights.”
“It has been clear since the outset that public opinion is with Ashers. Yet, the ECNI persists and is spending vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash on this poorly thought-out and ill-conceived action.
“The ECNI clearly want to have their day in court but they have already lost in the court of public opinion. The poll shows that.”
General Manager of the company, Daniel McArthur said: “We have had wide-ranging support from across Northern Ireland over the last nine months and this is backed up in this survey. Whether people agree with our beliefs or not, we are delighted that they respect our right to express those beliefs and that’s what tolerance is all about.”
The results revealed that at least three-quarters believe that under the scenarios no-one should face court action.
Last week The Christian Institute released details of a legal opinion from leading human rights QC Aidan O’Neill, who stated that if Ashers lose, there would be no defence to similar actions being taken against other businesses in similar scenarios.
Analysing the results of his survey, Executive Chairman of ComRes Andrew Hawkins stated: “When asked to choose between freedom of speech or protection from being offended, by a ratio of around three to one people said that freedom of speech trumps the right not to be offended.
“By an overwhelming majority people also believe that it is possible to have strong anti-discrimination laws while also protecting freedom of speech.
“It flows from this therefore that almost the same proportion believe that equality laws ‘should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose’.”