Priest backs support call in 'gay cake' bakery row
A priest has defended allowing a call for parishioners to demonstrate support for the Christian bakery at the centre of the 'gay cake' row to be included in a church bulletin.
Ashers Baking Co is being taken to court by the Equality Commission for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message on it.
Father John Murray of Downpatrick says he personally supported the stance of the McArthur family and the Ashers Baking Co involved in the Equality Commission row - but said he did not include information about a support rally as an official parish stance.
Fr Murray confirmed he received one complaint after allowing the message about the forthcoming rally to be included in a recent parish bulletin.
The bulletin said: "Support the Ashers: Show your support for the family who run Ashers Baking Co as they face trial at the hands of the Equality Commission."
It went on to outline details of the event at the Belfast Waterfront Hall on March 24, organised by The Christian Institute.
One of the family's lawyers will speak "about the alarming implications of this case for religious liberty and Gospel freedom" while Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur will also appear.
The organisers say: "Come and support the McArthur family as they stand for the truth of God's word." The rally is being held just before the case is due in court on March 26.
Fr Murray said he received an email from a person who was against the support call and who questioned whether it reflected the official stance of the parish.
He said the information about the Waterfront meeting came in and was inserted in the bulletin.
Fr Murray said he accepted the church was a "broad canvas" and it was up to people to decide if they want to go to the rally.
The parish priest said many events are published in his church's bulletins and while he personally supports the McArthur family, he won't be attending the support rally because of other commitments.
The parish of Downpatrick is in the Diocese of Down and Connor.
A diocesan spokesman said: "It is up to individuals to look at this event in accordance with their conscience if they wish to take part."
The Ashers row blew up after the firm refused to put a pro-gay marriage message on a cake for a customer.
A statement issued by the Catholic Church recently said it supported the general objective of a DUP Private Member's Bill seeking to build a conscience clause into equality law after Ashers refused to bake the cake because of the company's religious stance.
The Equality Commission was notified and it is now taking the firm to court. Religious activists have now mobilised to support the firm and a support rally will be held.
A Presbyterian Church spokeswoman said: "While the church is not actively promoting the Christian Institute event, a number of our members will no doubt be attending."
A Church of Ireland spokesman said: "We leave decisions about attending any event to individuals to decide."
A Methodist Church representative said it would also leave any decision to the individual.