Cakegate and freedom of conscience


Great news last week for Ashers Baking Co.!  The Christian bakers accused of discrimination against a gay customer because they chose not to supply a cake bearing a slogan with which they disagreed on religious grounds, have won their case in the Supreme Court – by a unanimous decision.

The bakery was sued in 2014 by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission on the grounds that they had discriminated against Mr Gareth Lee due to his sexual orientation.  He had ordered a cake bearing a logo in support of same-sex marriage. The legal bill to date is around £500,000.

The Supreme Court in October 2018 has finally found in favour of Ashers Baking Co.  The judges unanimously ruled that the bakery had not discriminated against Mr Lee and his sexual orientation, as the owners would have refused to make the cake for any customer, no matter what their orientation may be.  The SC therefore upheld the right of the bakery’s owners to refuse to reproduce a slogan that they believe is in contravention of their religious beliefs.

Reactions have been largely predictable, although it is good to see Peter Tatchell, who may have been expected to side with Mr Lee, adding his argument to the weight on Ashers’ side of the issue (as he has been doing for some time).  Mr Tatchell said “Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. If the original judgement against Ashers had been upheld, it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial.”

Mr Lee, on the other hand, says, “To me, this was never about a campaign or a statement. All I wanted was to order a cake in a shop that sold cakes to order.”

Really, Gareth?  You just happened to choose a bakery business that is run according to Christian beliefs, did you?  You didn’t fancy patronising a bakery run by Muslims? Or Jews? Or Hindus, or Sikhs? Or even a non-Christian ‘white’ bakery? Why ever not?

“I paid my money, my money was taken and then a few days later it was refused. That made me feel like a second-class citizen. I’m concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us.”

Is that so?  Just what exactly are the implications for the rest of us?  Care to name one? You’re upset because you can’t force Christians to propagate a view they disagree with on principle?   How about challenging a Muslim abbatoir over halal killing because you want your lamb chops stunned first?

As far as I can see, there are few implications for most of us. There is no shortage of bakeries in Belfast.  I am sure many of them who would have been delighted to bake and ice your cake.  You didn’t have any difficulty in finding another bakery once Ashers had said ‘no’, did you?

Ashers’ 24-year-old general manager, Daniel McArthur, said marriage in Northern Ireland “still is defined as being a union between one man and one woman” and said his company was taking “a stand”.

“In the past, we’ve declined several orders which have contained pornographic images and offensive, foul language…….I would like the outcome of this to be that, any Christians running a business could be allowed to follow their Christian beliefs and principles in the day-to-day running of their business and that they are allowed to make decisions based on that.”

Well said, Daniel.

And a final thought while we’re on the subject – has anyone heard or seen any comment on this pro-Christian outcome from our leaders in the Church of England (yes, bishops, that’s you)? Come on, bishops and archbishops, if Peter Tatchell can agree with the sense of this Supreme Court judgement, why can’t you?  So far, the silence is deafening. I wonder why.


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