Standing room only as thousands flock to show support for Ashers Baking Company
Over 2,000 people flocked to public meetings to show their support for Ashers Baking Company, the Christian-run bakery facing court for refusing to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake last year.
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Ashers’ legal case, hosted a series of hugely popular events across Northern Ireland featuring the bakery’s General Manager Daniel McArthur.
Daniel McArthur speaking in Belfast. (Audio file)
Over 800 people attended a meeting in Coleraine that was standing room only and the venue for the event in Belfast had to be changed in order to accommodate over 700 supporters. Other meetings in Newry and Clogher Valley were also packed out.
Speaking in person in Belfast and Coleraine, Daniel McArthur shared his family’s experience, and spoke about the reason why they turned down the cake request. He said:
“We politely declined the order because it carried a message that conflicts with our Biblical beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. We did not confront the customer nor did we question his sexuality. We simply exercised our right not to use our creative skills to promote a cause with which we fundamentally disagree.
“It wasn’t the first time we had turned down an order because of our faith. We’ve been asked to design and decorate confectionary with lewd images and foul language and we’ve said ‘no’ to those kind of orders too. Are we going to be compelled to accept these orders as well?”
“This really is a David and Goliath type battle. The Equality Commission, funded with £6m of taxpayers’ money, seems determined to penalise us for our beliefs”, he added.
Daniel thanked those around the UK and further afield who have shown their support: “It has been a real encouragement – not just to my family but to everyone involved with the business”, he said.
The meetings also featured B&B owner Hazelmary Bull, who shared her story of being sued by a homosexual couple over their married couples only double-bed policy. She and her husband Peter were forced to pay £3,600 in damages for the hurt feelings of the couple concerned.
Christian printer Nick Williamson, from Portadown, also spoke about his experience of facing the threat of legal action from the Equality Commission for refusing to print a gay magazine.
The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer, Callum Webster, said the huge crowds attending the meetings show the overwhelming support for protecting freedom of conscience in the Province.
He said: “We are hugely encouraged by seeing so many people from all over the Province. People from all sorts of backgrounds turned out to hear from Christians who have faced immense pressure for living according to their faith in the public square.
“It shows that the voice of all those who value religious freedom in Northern Ireland needs to be heard, and we hope that this sends a strong message to those who are threatening to curtail our freedom to live according to our conscience.
“Most people accept that the bakery was perfectly happy to bake cakes for anyone. The issue is whether people should be compelled to say things that they don’t believe.
Mr Webster concluded: “If Ashers Baking Company loses this case, what’s to stop a Nationalist baker having to make a King Billy cake or a Unionist printer having to supply leaflets with a ‘Support a united Ireland’ slogan? This is not what the equality laws are meant to do. We cannot sleepwalk into becoming a nation where coerced speech is acceptable.”
The Equality Commission’s legal case against Ashers Baking Company is set to start in court on 26 March.
In November, the McArthur family was issued with a new legal threat claiming their refusal to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake breached political discrimination laws.
Notes for editors:
Read a fact sheet with more details about the case.
See a high resolution picture of Daniel McArthur
Watch a video of Daniel McArthur’s response to the legal action.
Ashers Baking Company Limited was set up in 1992 by Colin and Karen McArthur, who are the owners and directors. It employs around 60 people and has seven retail outlets in and around Belfast.
The McArthurs’ son, Daniel, is the company’s general manager. All three are Christians. They 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 in excess of £6 million.
Ashers Baking Company is being assisted by The Christian Institute, a national charity that defends religious liberty.
The Equality Commission originally claimed the refusal to print a message endorsing same-sex marriage was a breach of Regulation 5 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 which outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods and services. They subsequently changed the claim to “unlawful religious, political and sexual orientation discrimination.”
In April last year, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against redefining marriage for the third time in less than two years.