An appeal hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in a precedent-setting case in Northern Ireland in which a court has ordered Christian bakers to pay damages to a homosexual for refusing to deliver a “gay”-promoting message on a cake.
And just ahead of the hearing in Belfast, a prominent “gay” activist has announced an abrupt reversal in his opinion. He now believes Christians have the right to refuse to provide a message with which they ardently disagree.
The owners of the bakery were ordered last year by a court to pay a fine of $750 for “injury to feelings” after they refused to promote homosexuality on their product.
They appealed, and the higher court’s hearing is scheduled Wednesday. The two-day hearing was listed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan following a ruling from county Judge Isobel Brownlie that the Christian-owned Asher’s Baking Co. violated the nation’s pro-“gay” provisions by refusing to decorate a cake with a “gay marriage” slogan.
At issue is the bakery’s religious and freedom of speech protections under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Similar cases have arisen in the United States, where courts have fined, penalized, threatened and intimidated Christian business operators, including bakeries in Oregon and Colorado and a photographer in New Mexico for refusing to promote homosexuality with their professional talents, as WND’s Big List of Christian Coercion shows.
The Belfast appeal on behalf of the McArthur family, which owns Ashers Baking Co., was pursued by the Christian Institute.
The bakery owners have argued in court they were unaware of any potential customer’s sexual lifestyle choices. They simply could not subscribe to the message.
The same arguments have been raised in American cases.
“Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee. I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict – the bakery was found guilty of discrimination last year. Now, two days before the case goes to appeal, I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” he wrote.
“Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached Northern Ireland’s Equality Act and Fair Employment and Treatment Order, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion. Last May a Belfast court found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds, ordering it to pay Lee £500 compensation,” he wrote.
“I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. … Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalize Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision,” he wrote.
“The lawsuit against the bakery was well-intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned. The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.
“However, the court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. … His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order,” he wrote.
Such a conclusion is a bad precedent, he said.
“Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed.”
He continued: “This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.”
The Christian Institute recently posted a video of the key managers of the bakery, Daniel and Amy McArthur, explaining that the lower court decision appeared to have been made before evidence was presented.
“They wanted to teach us a lesson. … If you’re a Christian, don’t bring it into work,” they said.
See the statement:
Earlier, the institute said a top legal expert was joining the team defending Ashers. Professor Christopher McCrudden of Queen’s University Belfast, who studied law at Yale and Oxford and specializes in human rights law, joined the team already led by David Scoffield.
In the Colorado case, attorneys how have argued that the finding of discrimination against baker Jack Phillips has to be overturned.
The argument is being raised in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by William J. Olson P.C., in the case against Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner, Jack Phillips.
Phillips was accused of discrimination for not providing the pro-“gay” cake, and an administrative law judge found he had discriminated. A district court came to the same conclusion.
He was ordered to stop the discrimination and send all of his employees to an indoctrination course.
However, the new brief argues the state’s own records contradict the state Court of Appeals finding that “by refusing to sell a wedding cake ‘because of [a same sex couple’s] intent to engage in a same-sex ceremony,’ Masterpiece Cakeshop violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.”
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In fact, the administrative law judge who first heard the complaint was specific in his findings, which have been undisputed throughout the case, the brief explains. The judge found that Phillips had a consistent business policy based on his religious beliefs, which was the foundation for refusing to make the cake.
The judge found:
- “Phillips has been a Christian for approximately 35 years, and believes in Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior. As a Christian, Phillips’ main goal in life is to be obedient to Jesus and His teachings in all aspects of his life.”
- “Based on the teachings of the Bible, Phillips ‘believes … that God’s intention for marriage is the union of one man and one woman.'”
- “Phillips ‘believes that the Bible commands him to avoid doing anything that would displease God, and not to encourage sin in any way.'”
- “Phillips believes that decorating cakes is a form of art and creative expression, and that he can honor God through his artistic talents.”
- “Phillips ‘believes that if he uses his artistic talents to participate in same-sex weddings by creating a wedding cake, he will be displeasing God and acting contrary to the teachings of the Bible.'”
- “Phillips ‘advised’ the mother of one of the persons in the same-sex couple ‘that he does not create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs, and because Colorado does not recognize same-sex marriages.'”
But the brief says the administrative law judge then “inexplicably and erroneously concluded that Phillips and Masterpiece refused to bake and sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple ‘because of [that couple’s] sexual orientation.'”
The administrative law judge’s own findings “undisputedly establish a consistent and comprehensive business policy encompassing a biblical stand against a wide range of biblical sins,” the brief said.