Belfast Telegraph

Ashers Bakery 'gay wedding cake' case could set precedent forcing Muslims to print Prophet Mohamed cartoons, claims human rights lawyer

BY ANTONIA MOLLOY

A human rights lawyer has claimed that a potential ruling that would force a Christian bakery to bake a same-sex marriage cake could set a sweeping precedent - that could see a Muslim printer ordered to print images of the Prophet Mohamed or an atheist web designer forced to create a website about God.

Aidan O’Neill QC said legal action against Ashers Baking Co, a Christian-run bakery in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, could have far-reaching implications for "negative freedom of expression".

Last year the bakery refused a gay rights activist's request to produce a cake featuring a picture of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie alongside the slogan: "Support Gay Marriage."

General manager Daniel McArthur insisted that baking the cake would amount to endorsing the campaign for the introduction of gay marriage in the province, and go against his religious convictions. Unlike the British mainland, gay marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland.

However, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland wrote to the firm insisting that they were in breach of the law. It claimed that refusing to print the cake amounted to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation against the man who placed the order.

A letter signed by the legal office ordered the firm to remedy "illegal discrimination" within seven days or be taken to court by the commission.

The Christian institute, which is supporting the bakery, said it was not discriminatory for Mr McArthur to refuse to endorse a political campaign.

And Mr O'Neill, who is supported by the Christian Institute,  said that he did not consider the Equality Commission's case to be "correctly based in law" because it suggested that "the law does not protect the fundamental right, within the commercial context of supplying services, to hold opinions nor guarantee any negative freedom of expression".

He added that if the case was upheld "there would be no defence to similar actions being taken against individuals or companies supplying services in any of the following scenarios which have been presented to me".

These included the Muslim printer and atheist web designer examples.

The case is due to come to court in Belfast later this month.

Six scenarios ‘where there would be no defence’

In his legal opinion, Aidan O’Neill presents six scenarios where companies would have no legal defence if the Equality Commission case were to succeed.

He said: “If the approach of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland were correctly based in law (which I do not consider it to be) then on the basis that the law does not protect the fundamental right — within the commercial context of supplying services — to hold opinions nor guarantee any negative freedom of expression, there would be no defence to similar actions being taken against individuals or companies supplying services in any of the following scenarios which have been presented to me:

• A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed;

• An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days;

• A Christian film company refusing to produce a “feminist/female-gaze” erotic film;

• A Christian baker refusing to take an order to make a cake celebrating Satanism;

• A T-shirt company owned by lesbians declining to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”;

• A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.

Further reading

Churches voice concerns ahead of public rally 

The refusal that snowballed

New Christian storm as printing firm refuses gay couple's civil partnership invitations

Gay couple 'shocked' at Beulah Print's refusal to make civil partnership invitations 

Let's call it like it is... persecution of people's beliefs 

Church of Ireland split over gay rights and DUP's conscience clause Bill 

US petition against 'anti-gay' Northern Ireland conscience clause bill gets 100,000 signatures in two days 

Unlikely allies as the Catholic Church backs DUP Conscience Clause Bill 

Sinn Fein petition leaves DUP's conscience clause dead in the water

Church of Ireland split over gay rights and DUP's conscience clause Bill

Non-Christians have right to freedom from belief

US petition against 'anti-gay' Northern Ireland conscience clause bill gets 100,000 signatures in two days

Unlikely allies as the Catholic Church backs DUP Conscience Clause Bill

Gay marriage cake: Christian Institute seeks donations for Ashers Bakery legal battle

Gay cake saga has highlighted other issues

Christian printer who refused gay magazine backs conscience clause Bill

Stephen Fry revels in his run-in with DUP as call to oppose conscience clause gains support

Ashers 'gay cake' row: Stop throwing cheap shots at evangelicals

Gay marriage cake: A row that has become seriously over-egged

Cakegate: Aren't sausage rolls a contradiction of what the Bible teaches?

Bert and Ernie gay? They're puppets. They don't exist below the waist

Gay marriage cake row: Are Bert and Ernie really a gay couple? 

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