The headline above a report on the Christian Institute’s website says:
Ashers ‘hope and pray’ for Court ruling that protects conscience.
Well, their prayers – as prayers always do – fell on deaf ears, and the Court of Appeal in Belfast today ruled against the owners of Ashers Baking Company.
The McArthur family, owners of the bakery, had been taken to court accused of political and sexual orientation discrimination after they refused to make a cake with the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The Christian Institute, which supported Ashers, described the ruling as an “oppressive” use of Northern Ireland’s equality laws and demanded that the law be changed to protect “freedom of conscience”.
Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute, 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.
Handing down the judgment in Belfast, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other senior judges upheld County Court Judge Isobel Brownlie’s previous ruling that the McArthur family discriminated against Gareth Lee.
The judges recognised that the family did not refuse the service because Lee was gay, but nonetheless ruled that refusing the order because of its slogan “was direct discrimination”.
The ruling states that Ashers can provide a “service to all or none but not to a selection of customers” adding:
What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation.
After the judgment was delivered Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur, above, 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.
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 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.
The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, claimed that the laws used against the bakery fall foul of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law.
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.
Hat tip: AgentCormac and BarrieJohn