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A fair, just society has no place for discrimination

Published 27/04/2015

"Free-thinking is the hallmark of a liberal society," says Fionola Meredith (DebateNI, April 10). And so say all of us.

But her article is flawed by a confusion between thought and action. Deeds can never be as free as words: if they were, society would collapse in chaos.

It is this confusion that surrounds the claim by some Christians that their freedom of conscience is being increasingly threatened by, for example, allowing Sunday football. But the players and the spectators also have a conscience which tells them that it is fine.

The Sunday observance Christians, however, seem to think they have a conscience monopoly, which should be imposed on the overwhelming majority who support Sunday sport. Not much liberalism there.

In the Ashers case, the bakery defended itself on the grounds that the message on the cake was against their conscience.

But baking a cake in no way implies agreement with the customer's opinions. On the contrary, doing the job is upholding the customer's freedom of conscience, while refusing it is denying him this right.

In terms of actions, it is even more clear that the bakery was acting illegally. As with the factory worker, driver, or postman, a business owner has to be obey certain rules in his conduct with the rest of society. And one of these rules is informed by the principle of equality before the law - including sexual equality.

By refusing to bake the cake, Ashers not only denied someone else his freedom of thought, but also was guilty of sexual discrimination.

Fionola was only half right: free-thinking is indeed the hallmark of a tolerant and liberal society - and equality before the law is the hallmark of a fair and just one.


Director, Humanist Association of NI

Belfast Telegraph

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