25 March 2015
Ashers cake case is about fundamental freedoms
Owner of Ashers Bakery, Daniel McArthur (Photo credit: Christian Institute)
The case against a Christian-owned bakery threatens to banish beliefs from public life, the Evangelical Alliance warns.
Serious concerns are being raised about the threat to fundamental freedoms posed by the case against Ashers Bakery, brought by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.
The case, to be heard 26-27 March in Belfast, is not about a gay cake and has little to do with sexuality or gay rights, claims Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland. The sexual orientation of the customer wasn't known when the order was turned down.
In turning down the cake order the McArthurs, who own the bakery, discriminated against an idea and not a person. This distinction, Lynas maintains, is key to the vital freedoms of conscience and belief that underpin a vibrant plural society.
Peter Lynas, who was formerly a barrister, commented on the case: "The question is whether everyone's freedom of conscience, religion and belief is more important than any one person's right not to be offended. Put another way –can you force someone to express an opinion they disagree with? Polling conducted by ComRes has shown widespread support for the bakery across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 90 per cent of respondents agree that equality laws should be used only to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they disagree with.
"Equality is important and is supported by Christians. But it must be held in tension with rights and responsibilities and in the context of the much richer notions of dignity and justice. When equality becomes the sole lens through which a situation is viewed, distortions like the Ashers case can occur. The Chief Equality Commissioner seemed to suggest in recent comments that Christians may need to stop participating in certain types of business."
The Evangelical Alliance is continuing to engage with the Commission to ensure that regardless of the outcome, better solutions can be found in the future. Rights need to be balance through reasonable accommodation, rather than creating a hierarchy of rights with winners and losers.
Peter Lynas went on to add: "There is a real danger that this case could lead to conscience and religion being effectively banished from the public square. It is not about special protection for Christians. The concern is that a government quango could end up deciding which views are acceptable and which are not."
- Former barrister and Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland director Peter Lynas can be contacted for comment on the case on 07899 898066 or via twitter @peterlynas.
- Former solicitor David Smyth is senior public policy officer at the Evangelical Alliance and can be contacted for comment on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07739 307656.
Notes to Editors
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.