Westminster parties must follow Northern Ireland’s attempt to protect Christians
The Christian Institute welcomes the news that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has today launched a consultation on introducing a ‘conscience clause’ to protect Christians and those of faith.
The consultation on draft legislation follows several high profile examples of Christians being taken to court for their beliefs.
Christians Peter and Hazelmary Bull faced five years of litigation after the English Equality Commission took them to court for only allowing married couples to share a bed in their B&B.
The latest case involves Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland which is being taken to court for declining to make a cake carrying the message ‘support gay marriage’ with a picture of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie embracing.
The bakery, owned by a Christian family, refused to make the cake for the political stunt, because the message conflicted with their deeply held views.
Despite gay marriage not being legal in Northern Ireland and another nearby bakery providing the cake, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has decided to press ahead with litigation against them. The action has been criticised by politicians and campaign groups for being unnecessary, unfair and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, which has been backing Ashers Baking Company, commented: “We welcome the fact that the DUP is looking into this vital issue. We have long called for the law to allow for ‘reasonable accommodation’ of people’s strongly held religious beliefs. Paul Givan MLA’s consultation is an important first step in the discussion on how best to protect religious liberty.
“For our part, we think the focus of the protection should be on family-run businesses, where the work is inseparable from the people behind the business. Whether it is a baker or a B&B, there ought to be a respect for their beliefs on those rare occasions where doing what the customer wants would force them into a moral compromise. In those circumstances, we think the law must respect their freedom of conscience.”
And Mr Hart urged the parties in Westminster to introduce their own versions of this legislation to protect Christians and those of faith from being discriminated against for their views.
“The need to change the law has been evident for several years, as we have seen ordinary men and women dragged through the courts for their beliefs. As Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court pointed out, our country is ‘less respectful’ of people of faith, despite our deep-rooted Christian heritage.
“What we have seen with cases like Adrian Smith and Lillian Ladele in England, the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, or that of Rev Ross, the former Chaplain of Strathclyde Police who was sacked for his views on marriage, there is a problem that runs more broadly than just the arena of goods and services, and which affects every part of the United Kingdom.
“As we gear up for a General Election, I would urge all political parties to look carefully at what is happening in Northern Ireland and bring forward similar protections.
“If they do not, then those of faith will continue to face being marginalised for their beliefs and be forced to choose between their career and their conscience.”
Watch a video of Daniel McArthur
Read a factsheet about the case
Notes for editors:
Read a factsheet with more details about the case.
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 company is one of the top ten bakeries in Northern Ireland.
The McArthurs’ son, Daniel, is the company 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.
Mr Lee’s legal action against Ashers Baking Company is being funded by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland – a taxpayer-funded public body.
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. Now they claim Mr Lee has suffered “unlawful religious, political and sexual orientation discrimination.”
In April this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against redefining marriage for the third time in less than two years.