Christian bakers pursued by equality watchdog
- Watch a video of Daniel McArthur responding to the latest developments
- Read a fact sheet about the case
A Northern Ireland equality watchdog has issued a new legal threat against a Christian-run bakery, claiming its refusal to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake breaches political discrimination laws.
In a 16-page letter dated 27 October, the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland demanded that Ashers Baking Company offer compensation within seven days, or face litigation.
The Christian Institute is supporting the McArthur family, who own and run the business, and says the Commission should not be wasting taxpayers’ money on its campaign against the family.
The Commission claims the McArthurs discriminated against a customer on the ground of his political opinion when they declined to decorate a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
But Daniel McArthur, manager of Ashers, said they will not be forced to promote a cause which goes against their conscientious view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman”.
“It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission who are a public body, they’re funded by taxpayers’ money, they have massive resources at their disposal whereas we are a small family business and we have limited resources at our disposal.
“We’re continuing to hold to the stand that we took originally because we believe it’s biblical, we believe it’s what God would want us to do, and we also think that if we do cave in to the Equality Commission at this point it’ll put pressure on other citizens who are defending their view of traditional marriage.”
“We don’t want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs. We’ve had a lot of support from people who disagree with our stance on same-sex marriage. They think that we should have the freedom to decline an order that conflicts with our conscience.”
Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, said: “It is simply baffling for a body supposedly working for equality to be threatening a Christian family with legal action, all because of a cake.
“The Equality Commission has taken four months to dream up new grounds on which to pursue the McArthur family, claiming that they’ve breached political discrimination laws.
“If supporting same-sex marriage is a protected political opinion, so is supporting traditional marriage. Yet the Commission clearly favours one view over another and is prepared to litigate to prove it.
“Is the Commission seriously saying that all business owners have to be willing to promote every political cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it? Does a printer have no right to refuse to print posters for the BNP or Islamic State?
“The Commission is throwing the kitchen sink at this case, and is wasting tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process.
“I doubt that many people in Northern Ireland will think this is a good use of their hard-earned tax money. I hope they will make their views known to the Commission.
“The Christian Institute is committed to seeing this case through, and we applaud the McArthurs’ gracious and courageous stand.
“There has been a huge outpouring of public sympathy for them. Lots of people have shown their support by going into their bakeries and buying cakes.
“The Commission says it is only seeking “modest” compensation, but you can’t put a price on conscience. If it gets its way, the McArthurs will lose the right to freedom of conscience regarding core religious beliefs.
“This case proves that redefining marriage in the Province would lead to many other people being punished for believing in traditional marriage.”
The latest letter from the Commission claims that the customer who ordered the gay marriage campaign cake, “suffered unlawful religious, political and sexual orientation discrimination”.
The Commission also says it is putting Ashers “formally on notice”. It states: “This letter therefore is to be understood as a letter of claim which, in the absence of both an immediate acknowledgment that there has been an unlawful breach of the equality laws set out above and an unconditional offer of adequate recompense to Mr Lee, will be followed by litigation.”
In September, it emerged that the Commission only took advice from a senior barrister about the case after its original threat of legal action led to a public outcry and media coverage around the globe.
Documents shown to a Belfast newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act revealed a key email exchange between senior staff at the Commission.
Anne McKernan, the Commission’s Director of Legal Services, wrote to the Chief Executive Evelyn Collins highlighting local and national interest in the case.
She said: “Given that the matter was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and commented upon by the media legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg, among many, many others – I think it may be prudent for the Commission to have the views of a senior barrister.”
Collins responded saying she agreed on the need for very good advice.