Belfast bakers cleared of discrimination by Supreme Court
The bakery owners at the centre of the controversial ‘gay cake’ case have spoken of their delight as the highest court in the land cleared them of discrimination.
After a protracted and costly legal action, the case brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) has been comprehensively rejected.
Ashers Baking Company went before the Supreme Court in May in a bid to overturn a 2015 judgement that it had broken political, religious and sexual orientation discrimination laws.
Belfast County Court ruled against Ashers, run by Christian family the McArthurs, for declining an order to make a £36.50 cake with the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for a gay rights event because they felt it conflicted with their deeply-held religious beliefs.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld that decision in 2016.
Pursued since 2014 by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission, Ashers mounted a vigorous defence, supported by The Christian Institute.
After the five Supreme Court judges unanimously upheld the appeal, Ashers’ General Manager Daniel
McArthur spoke to gathered media on the steps of the court:
“I want to start by thanking God. He has been with us during the challenges of the last four years. Through the Bible and the support of Christians, He has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all His ways are just.
“We’re delighted and relieved at today’s ruling. We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order. After more than four years, the Supreme Court has now recognised that and we’re very grateful. Grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.
“We’re particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along – we did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself.
“The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact it couldn’t be any clearer. Family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can – without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns.
“I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone.
“On behalf of my family can I say thank you to everyone who has supported us or prayed for us through all this. I do want to take this opportunity to thank our whole legal team for working so hard for us over the last four years. And also to thank the entire Christian Institute staff for their help and support from the very beginning.
“We want to move on from this now, and I’m sure Mr Lee does too. And let me just finish by saying that he will always be welcome at any of our shops. Thank you.”
Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, commented: “This is a win for everyone – no-one should be forced to say something that they disagree with.
“It is disappointing that this case has been pitched as Christians versus the LGBT community. This ruling affirms that this was never the case. The Asher’s Bakery have served Mr Lee in the past and continue to be willing to serve him again.
“Whilst no one should be discriminated against because of any protected characteristic, this judgment is clear that this is not what happened in this case.
“In the light of this ruling it is important that the Equality Commission to provide updated guidance and support for both business owners and customers around the provision of goods and services.
“Our hope and our prayer is that everyone in Northern Ireland is treated fairly and justly. This judgment is an important step in that direction.”
Main photo: YouTube/Christian Institute