06 May 2016
Ashers Bakery back in court for vital freedom of expression case
On Monday morning, two years to the day since the infamous 'gay cake' was ordered, Ashers Baking Company will appear before the Court of Appeal seeking to overturn a decision against them by the County Court. In a sign of the importance of the case, the Attorney General has now intervened, challenging the very laws under which Ashers Bakery was found guilty.
The McArthur family, who own Ashers bakery, run a successful family business. Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist, asked Ashers bakery to make a cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage' on it. Ashers were happy to sell Mr Lee a cake, but not to promote a view contrary to their firmly-held religious beliefs. When they ultimately declined his order, Mr Lee went to the Equality Commission who supported his claim alleging discrimination.
Peter Lynas, a former barrister and NI director of Evangelical Alliance, commented:
"Ashers discriminated against an idea, not a person. While the law rightly prohibits the latter, the former is not only allowed, but encouraged in a healthy democratic society. Many people don't realise that Mr Lee had used the bakery before, and the company was, and remains, happy to serve him. However, they will not, and should not, be forced to promote a view contrary to their firmly-held religious beliefs.
"The Attorney General has been given permission to intervene in the case, challenging the lawfulness of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Northern Ireland's chief legal advisor will argue that this legislation directly discriminates against those who hold certain religious beliefs or political opinions and should therefore be struck down.
"Many people will be surprised to hear that the Equality Commission, which is backing Mr Lee, actively supports same-sex marriage. They are spending tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money taking a family business to court who simply want the law to remain as it is.
"If this appeal is lost, freedom of conscience and religion will effectively be banished from the public square for everyone in Northern Ireland. This is not about special protection for Christians. The mark of a free and democratic society is that competing views are discussed and debated. Forcing someone to promote a view that they fundamentally disagree with is the antithesis of a free and fair society.
"Our hope and prayer is that the Court of Appeal places a higher value on freedom than the Commission or the lower court, and rules in favour of Ashers or strikes down the legislation as discriminatory."
Peter Lynas, Director of Northern Ireland
- Telephone: 028 9073 9079 / 07899 898066
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Smyth, NI public policy officer
Tel: 07766 444 650
Notes to Editors
- Peter Lynas, NI director of the Evangelical Alliance, and a former barrister, is available for comment and interview, as is David Smyth NI public policy officer.
- Ashers Baking Company is being assisted by The Christian Institute
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.