Ashers Baking Company take first steps in appeal process as ‘gay cake’ case returns to court
The Christian Institute
Wednesday 10 June 2015
For immediate use
The first steps have been taken in the legal appeal by Ashers Baking Company against the court judgment in the so-called ‘gay cake’ case.
Its legal team has lodged papers asking District Judge Isobel Brownlie to “state a case” for the opinion of the Court of Appeal.
This method of appeal means there will be no re-run of the original three-day hearing and spares the witnesses from giving evidence again.
Instead, the case will rest on legal arguments.
In papers lodged earlier this week, lawyers for Ashers who are applying for the appeal said:
“We have identified the broad points of law with which the applicant is dissatisfied.”
The case followed a decision in May 2014 by Ashers, which is run by the McArthur family, to decline an order placed at its Belfast store by gay rights activist Gareth Lee asking for a cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group QueerSpace.
At Belfast County Court, Judge Brownlie ruled in a written judgment that the bakery had acted unlawfully and ordered Ashers to pay £500 damages after stating the customer had been treated “less favourably”, contrary to the law, and the bakery had breached political and sexual orientation discrimination regulations.
There are six main grounds for the appeal.
- Whether the Judge was correct as a matter of law to hold that Ashers had discriminated against Mr Lee directly on grounds of sexual orientation?
- Whether the Judge was correct as a matter of law to hold that Ashers had discriminated against Mr Lee directly on grounds of religious belief or political opinion?
- Whether the Judge was correct as a matter of law to hold that, had she not considered the case to give rise to direct discrimination on any of the above protected characteristics, alternatively she would have held that the same amounted to indirect discrimination which was not justified by Ashers?
- Whether the Judge was correct to hold as a matter of law that it was not necessary to read down or disapply the provisions of the Regulations or FETO (The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998) to take account of Ashers’ protected right to hold and manifest their genuinely-held religious belief that marriage is, according to God’s law, between one man and one woman, pursuant to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
- Whether the Judge was correct to hold as a matter of law that it was not necessary to read down or disapply the provisions of the Regulations or FETO to take account of Ashers’ protected right not to express a religious belief or political opinion which was contrary to their conscience, contrary to Article 10 of the ECHR.
- Whether the Judge was correct to hold as a matter of law that Ashers was not entitled to protection as a result of the rights under Articles 9 and/or 10 of the ECHR.
Stating their intention to lodge an appeal, the McArthur family said last month:
“After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgment handed down last Tuesday.
“We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage.
“As many other people have already noted, Christian beliefs seem to have been trampled over in this judgment and we believe this only has negative effects for our society.
“Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace.”
Ashers, owned by Colin and Karen McArthur, refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the family’s firmly-held Christian beliefs.
They were supported by their son Daniel, the General Manager of the company.
But the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) launched a civil action against the family-run bakery, claiming its actions violated equality laws in Northern Ireland and alleging discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
The family has been given the full support of The Christian Institute which has funded their defence costs.
The case has raised key issues of public importance regarding the protection of rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Donations from grassroots supporters have helped fund the legal fees and there is expected to be a public appeal to help fund the next stage in the legal process.
Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute said: “I believe that most people think that this is a ruling that should be overturned.
“There has been such extraordinary support from people from all walks of life who are appalled by what has happened to the McArthur family. There is huge public support for an appeal and it is vitally important that the higher courts consider this issue.”
He added: “This court decision will have dramatic consequences if it goes unchallenged.
“Leading human rights QC Aidan O’Neill has already spelled out what is possible as a result of the judge ruling against Ashers.
- Muslim printers sued for refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of Mohammed
- An atheist web designer taken to court for refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
- A Christian film company sued for refusing to produce a pornographic film
- Another Christian-run bakery fined for refusing to take an order to make a cake celebrating Satanism
- Legal proceedings against a T-shirt company owned by lesbians for declining to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”
- A printing company run by Roman Catholics dragged through the courts for declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.”
Mr Calvert added:
“The ordinary people of Northern Ireland are very clear on this matter. A ComRes poll in March 2015 found that 90 per cent of NI voters say equality laws ‘should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose’.
“In the same poll, nearly four out of five (79 per cent) believe a Muslim printer should not be taken to court for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed. And almost three quarters (74 per cent) believe a printing company run by Roman Catholics should not be forced by legal action to produce adverts calling for abortion to be legalised.
“But this is what awaits us if this judgment is allowed to stand.”