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Divisions will remain after court's ruling

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 25/10/2016

There is an old legal saying that
There is an old legal saying that "hard cases make hard laws", and few, if any, have been harder than the long-running Ashers Bakery case which reached its latest stage yesterday in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal

There is an old legal saying that "hard cases make hard laws", and few, if any, have been harder than the long-running Ashers Bakery case which reached its latest stage yesterday in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

The Court dismissed the Ashers appeal against a decision by a lower court which ruled that the company had discriminated against a customer by refusing to bake a cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage'.

This has been an arduous experience on all sides, with a small firm pitted against the Equality Commission, a virtual Samson-Goliath contest in Biblical terms.

The complex case is basically about balancing the freedom of expression and the right not to be discriminated against.

People will make up their own minds about the decision, but it is significant that such an outspoken champion of gay rights as Peter Tatchell said it was the wrong decision, thus making him an unlikely ally with the TUV's Jim Allister.

Many people feel that if this decision is allowed to stand, it will be an undue restriction on the freedom of expression and religious belief.

There will be fears that this decision could open the floodgates to specious claims whereby bakers in loyalist areas will be forced to bake cakes with republican propaganda-and vice versa.

As Jeremy Bentham has noted, this would be nonsense on stilts.

This newspaper has resolutely opposed all discrimination, but in a world of competing rights, the best way forward is to try to balance them and not to use one as a sledgehammer against the other.

Feelings have been hurt and this case has caused divisions within our broad community.

Much is claimed about the freedom of religious belief, but there must be a practical outworking of that faith in daily life.

That is what the McArthur family tried to do, indeed felt compelled to do, in an era when Christianity is under attack in the UK and around the world, as this newspaper has stressed repeatedly.

Clearly it is necessary for Christianity to defend itself, and perhaps more so than other religions, given the sustained attack on Christianity at home and overseas.

Sadly, yesterday's events are unlikely to heal those divisions, and they will only exacerbate the feelings of many Christians of being constantly under attack. That feeling of hurt will linger on.

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