CALLS TO CHANGE ‘OPPRESSIVE’ EQUALITY LAW AFTER ASHERS BAKING COMPANY LOSES ‘GAY CAKE’ CASE
Equality laws have been turned into an ‘oppressive weapon’ used to curb dissent says the charity supporting the bakery owners at the centre of the controversial ‘gay cake’ case.
Ashers Baking Company had been taken to court accused of political and sexual orientation discrimination for refusing to make a cake with the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
After a protracted and costly legal action, the case brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), has gone against Ashers after judges ruled in favour of the ECNI.
The Christian Institute responded to the ruling in the Court of Appeal in Belfast by calling for the law to be changed to protect freedom of conscience.
The Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Simon Calvert said:
“Equality laws are there to protect people from discrimination, not to force people to associate themselves with a cause they oppose.
“But those same laws have become a weapon in the hands of those who want to oppress anyone who dissents from the politically-correct norms of the moment. The law needs to change before more damage is done.”
After the judgment was delivered Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur spoke outside court of his family’s deep disappointment at losing their high-profile court action.
“We’re extremely disappointed with today’s ruling. If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes, then equality law needs to change.
“This ruling undermines democratic freedom. It undermines religious freedom. It undermines free speech.”
The case followed a decision in May 2014 by Ashers to decline an order placed at its Belfast store by a gay rights activist asking for a £36.50 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.
Ashers, owned by Daniel’s parents Colin and Karen McArthur, refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the family’s firmly-held Christian beliefs.
But the ECNI launched a civil action against the family-run bakery, claiming its actions violate 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 case raises key issues of public importance regarding the protection of rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Mr Calvert of The Christian Institute added:
“The Court accepted that the McArthurs did not know Gareth Lee was gay and did not refuse his request because he was gay. They didn’t refuse his request because they didn’t like the look of him or because he’s not ‘their sort of person’.
“The only reason Ashers Baking Company turned this order down is because to do otherwise, would be to involve themselves and their company in endorsing a highly political and controversial campaign to redefine marriage. This is something that as Bible-believing Christians, they simply could not do.
“To essentially say ‘I’m sorry but whatever you think about the morality of any particular campaign you must get involved with it if asked’ is baffling and frankly oppressive.”
“What about the Muslim printer asked to produce cartoons of Mohammed? Or the Roman Catholic company asked to produce adverts with the slogan ‘Support abortion’?
“Any company whose owners believe that their creative output says something about them and their values has been put at risk by this interpretation of the law.
“We’ll work with the family and their lawyers to see what options for appeal remain open.
“On behalf of The Christian Institute and the McArthur family I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to the thousands upon thousands of people who have shown their support for Ashers.
“And I would like to pay tribute to the McArthur family. Anyone who has followed the case will have seen that they have always acted and spoken with gentleness and respect.
“They have a peace that comes from trusting in God whatever the outcome and it has been a privilege for all of us at The Christian Institute to know them and to stand with them.”
Daniel McArthur who spoke on behalf of the bakery after the judgment was read out, said:
“We had served Mr Lee before and would be happy to serve him again. The judges accepted that we did not know Mr Lee was gay and that was not the reason we declined the order. We have always said it was never about the customer, it was about the message. The court accepted that. But now we are being told we have to promote the message even though it’s against our conscience.
“What we refused to do, was to be involved with promoting a political campaign to change marriage law.
“Because we’re Christians we support the current law. And we felt that making this cake would have made us responsible for its message.
“We wouldn’t decorate a cake with a pornographic picture or with swear words. We wouldn’t decorate a cake with a spiteful message about gay people. Because to do so would be to endorse and promote what was said.
“The court said the Commission gave the impression it was not interested in assisting the faith community in issues like this. I think a lot of people will agree with that. That’s certainly how we have felt.
“We’ll have to take advice from our lawyers about whether there is a way to appeal this ruling. In the meantime, other businesses will have to take advice about whether they can refuse orders that conflict with their consciences. Or whether they too may be coerced into promoting other people’s views.
“We’d like to thank the huge numbers of people who have been supporting us and praying for us through all this. We’re very grateful to you all.
“It’s been a trying time. But we’re thankful to God for His faithfulness to us through everything.”
• The case follows a decision in 2014 by Ashers to decline an order placed at its Belfast store by a gay rights activist asking for a £36.50 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 called QueerSpace. Ashers refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the firmly-held Christian beliefs of the owners.
• Ashers Baking Company is being assisted by The Christian Institute, a non-denominational national charity which since 1991 has been working on issues including religious liberty, marriage and the family.
• Ashers Baking Company Limited was set up in 1992 by Colin and Karen McArthur, who are the owners and directors.
• The McArthurs’ son, Daniel, is the company’s General Manager. All three are Christians. They have previously refused other cake printing orders which included pornographic pictures and offensive language, since they clearly conflicted with the teachings of their Christian faith.
• The legal action against Ashers Baking Company is being funded by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland – a taxpayer-funded public body with an annual budget of nearly £6 million.
• The ECNI claimed the company’s actions violate equality laws in Northern Ireland and alleges discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
• The ECNI is in favour of introducing same-sex marriage. Its website states: “The Commission supports the introduction of legislation permitting same sex marriage…including sufficient safeguards for religious organisations”.
• The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected five attempts to redefine marriage since October 2012.
Notes for editors
Watch a video of Daniel and Amy McArthur speaking about the court case. Recorded Feb 2016. As featured on BBC One – ‘The Battle for Christianity’: https://youtu.be/-Y4-pmnF2L8
Read a fact sheet with more details about the case:
Read Aidan O’Neill QC’s legal opinion on the case: http://www.christian.org.uk/wp-content/downloads/opinion-re-ashers-bakery-case_12March2015.pdf
Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin QC, intervened at the Court of Appeal hearing. He said if the County Court ruling against Ashers was right, the laws used against the bakery fall foul of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law.
Mr Larkin said: “Although the case for the Plaintiff is put pleasantly and with every appearance of sweet reasonableness, what cannot be disguised is that the Defendants are being compelled, on pain of civil liability, to burn a pinch of incense at the altar of a god they do not worship. The constitutional law of Northern Ireland, supplemented by the ECHR, resists such a compulsion.”