Belfast Telegraph

Ashers Bakery case: It's a fundamental attack on our political and religious freedoms

By Peter Lynas

It is encouraging to see that people of all faiths and none from across Northern Ireland are supporting Ashers Baking Company. This case is not about a 'gay cake', as if you could have such a thing.

In fact it has very little to do with sexuality or gay rights - the McArthurs who own Ashers did not know the sexual orientation of the customer.

They discriminated against an idea, not a person, and this distinction is important. You are allowed to do the first, in fact it is critical in a healthy democratic society, but you are rightly not allowed to do the second.

The polling suggests that people here in Northern Ireland recognise this distinction and see this case for what it is - a fundamental attack on political and religious freedom.

Aidan O'Neill QC of the Matrix Chambers in London has written a legal opinion on the case.

He is concerned about the wider implications of forcing someone to express an opinion they disagree with- the freedom of non-expression.

Regardless of one's views on gay marriage, this case should unite all of us who believe in civil and religious liberty.

Surely, the right of an individual not to be offended should not trump the freedom of conscience, religion and belief of everyone.

I believe in equality, 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 vast majority of people think we should not be spending public funds pursuing Ashers through the courts.

I entirely agree as someone supporting both sides - through my taxes and my charitable giving.

If this case is lost, conscience and religion will have been effectively banished from the public square.

The Equality Commission would decide which political and religious views are acceptable and which are not.

The Chief Commissioner said last week that Christians should "either look at the law or maybe that (baking) is not the business they should be in". This case is an attack on the very fabric of our society, dangerously close to the thought police in action.

I, for one, hope and pray the commission lose.

Ashers are winning in the court of public opinion, now for all our sakes they must win in a court of law.

  • Peter Lynas is the Evangelical Alliance spokesman

Read more:

70% of public polled say that Ashers court case is wrong 

Row over slogan which escalated into legal action

Is the cake case recipe for disaster over freedom of conscience? 

Fury as equality chief suggests Christian-run businesses should put up with laws or close

Conscience Bill 'will cause bias' 

Intolerance of the Ashers case won't further tolerance

Conscience clause: 'No anti-gay law' billboard tours Northern Ireland 

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