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26 March 2015

Gay cake case is about fundamental freedoms, Alliance director claims

Gay cake case is about fundamental freedoms, Alliance director claims

The 'gay cake' case begins today in Belfast to decide whether Northern Ireland's Equality Commission was right to rule Ashers Bakery had discriminated against a customer on grounds of his sexuality.

The Equality Commission is supporting the case against a family bakery that declined an order for a cake bearing the slogan 'Support gay marriage'.

The bakery is named Ashers after one of Jacob's sons blessed for his bread and delicacies. They said it would be against their Christian beliefs to bake such a cake.

The High Court will consider on 26 to 27 March 2015 whether the decision infringed on equality laws.

It could have further repercussion in terms of businesses having the right to refuse service due to sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion.

The director of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland Peter Lynas commented that this was about fundamental freedoms.

"The case is not about a gay cake, as if you could have such a thing. It has little to do with sexuality or gay rights as the sexual orientation of the customer wasn't known when the order was turned down.

"The McArthurs who own the bakery discriminated against an idea, not a person and this distinction is critical. You are allowed to do the first but you are rightly not allowed to do the second."

Polling conducted for the Christian Institute by ComRes has shown widespread support for the bakery across Northern Ireland, with about 70 per cent thinking the High Court is wrong to take this action.

"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," the director went on.

"Put another way – can you force someone to express an opinion they disagree with."

Mr Lynas said that 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 has suggested that Christians may need to stop participating in certain types of business.

"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."

The Alliance is continuing to engage with the Commission to ensure that regardless of the outcome, better solutions can be found going forward.

Image: Manager of Ashers Bakery Daniel McArther. Image courtesy of Christian Institute.