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Equality Commission to guide firms on how equality law works

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/05/2015

The Equality Commission has said it will work will Christian and other businesses to help them avoid legal pitfalls in the aftermath of the Ashers bakery controversy.

And it plans to update written guidance for businesses on equality and the provision of goods and services.

Chief commissioner Michael Wardlow also insisted the commission had not sought to target or persecute Christians.

And in the aftermath of the court verdict, he added: "What is needed now is some calm reflection rather than knee-jerk reactions."

"We can and will work with businesses, run by Christians or otherwise, to identify and take practical steps to assist them carry out their business within the law and in line with their beliefs and values," he said in an article for the Detail website.

In her verdict on Tuesday, Judge Brownlie affirmed the rights of people to hold religious beliefs is protected but that they cannot manifest them commercially in a way which is contravenes the rights of others.

The commission supported gay rights activist Gareth Lee in the civil case against the firm which turned down his order, which was initially accepted, for a cake with a pro same-sex marriage message.

Mr Wardlow said yesterday: "Let me be clear, the commission's support for Gareth Lee and the subsequent judgment were neither a targeting nor persecution of Christians, nor actions and decisions which will drive Christians out of the public sphere.

"We can and will work with businesses, run by Christians or otherwise, to identify and take practical steps to assist them carry out their business within the law and in line with their beliefs and values.

"What is clear is that businesses operating in the commercial sphere that provide services to the public cannot unlawfully discriminate against their customers... on any of the grounds protected by our equality laws (religious belief, political opinion, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability)."

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