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25 October 2016

Ashers ruling: majority of evangelicals believe businesses should have the right to choose what they publish

Ashers ruling: majority of evangelicals believe businesses should have the right to choose what they publish

New research by the Evangelical Alliance shows 89 per cent of respondents agree that businesses should have the right to refuse to print or publish a message it doesn't agree with.  

The research follows yesterday's news that appeal court judges in Northern Ireland have upheld a ruling against a bakery that refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

In the original ruling, the judge said that while he believed the order was refused by the Christian owners in line with their "genuine and deeply held belief", businesses were not above the law.

Peter Lynas, former barrister and Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland director, said: "This is a sad day for the family and for freedom of conscience and religion.

"Ashers have lost the case, but even more importantly we have all lost some our freedom.

"Forcing someone to promote a view that they fundamentally disagree with is the antithesis of a free and fair society."

In 2014 the family-run firm were asked to make a cake with icing that read: "Support gay marriage."

They appealed the original ruling in May, but the result was only heard this week.

In a survey taken this year, respondents were asked whether: "A business should have the right to refuse to print, publish (or write in icing on a cake) a message with which it does not agree."

The results show that while the vast majority of evangelical respondents agreed, 56 per cent agreed strongly.

The customer, Gareth Lee, said yesterday he was "grateful" to the appeal court judges for calling the family-run firm's decision "direct discrimination".

The owners of Ashers disagree with this ruling, saying they had served the gay rights campaigner before and after the refused order, and so this was therefore about the message, not the person.

Peter Lynas agreed, saying: "Ashers discriminated against an idea, not a person. They would not have made a cake with that slogan for anyone - gay or straight. As they would have treated everyone the same, there can be no discrimination."

He said the majority of people in Northern Ireland support the bakers and will struggle to understand this ruling.

"This case shows how far the state can go in forcing someone to act against their fundamental beliefs."

There may now be further appeals to the Supreme Court, and Mr Lynas said a review is now needed as to whether the current law is fit for purpose given how it has been interpreted.

"It now appears not just to protect people, but also particular public messages," he added.

Many other commentators have condemned the decision, including some of the most prominent LGBT campaigners.

Peter Tatchell, director of the human rights organisation The Peter Tatchell Foundation, said while he originally thought the bakery was wrong, he now realised this was a freedom of speech issue.

Today he wrote in The Independent: "It is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object.

"Discrimination against people should be always unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions."