Daniel and Amy McArthur. Photo: PA via The Mirror
The British Supreme Court ruling that the proprietors of Ashers, a Northern Irish bakery, did not discriminate against a customer on the grounds of his sexuality by declining to bake a cake celebrating same-sex marriage, is “a victory not just for common sense but for freedom of expression.” (“Freedom to believe,” Telegraph Comment, October 11, 2018).
Same-sex marriage is not even lawful in Northern Ireland, but the legal challenge relied on protections offered by the 2010 Equality Act to sexual minorities. Religion is also a “protected category” under this law – necessarily it seems, since, as The Telegraph points out, this case against a Christian enterprise was “emblematic of a growing intolerance towards deeply held Christian beliefs which is rarely applied to other religions.”
A similar case brought against a Muslim or Jewish company could be countered by claims of ‘Islamophobia’ or anti-Semitism, but although Christianity is the most persecuted religion anywhere in the world, apparently there is no such thing as ‘Christianophobia’.
And although Christianity is still the majority religion in this country — with the Queen as Governor of the Church of England, and our Prime Minister a professed Christian — our ruling bodies seem to be trying to undermine its tenets, traditions and institutions at every turn.
The Equalities Commission spent an estimated £150,000 supporting the claimant in this case, while Daniel and Amy MacArthur, who run the bakery, have run up at least as much in costs funded by Christian supporters. It seems that they and their supporters not only had to fund their defence against vexatious legal challenges against the freedom to believe but also the vexatious legal challenges.
The Supreme Court, not noted for its support of traditional views, is to be commended for this decision, although they cited protections enshrined in the European Court of Human Rights (not an altogether reliable basis), and – in a tilt at Christians — human rights that “go back much further than that to a time when we stopped locking people up or burning them at the stake for holding a view not considered ‘acceptable’.”
The Judges said there was a right “not to be obliged to manifest beliefs one does not hold,” and found it “shocking” that it was necessary for the MacArthurs “to go to the Supreme Court to establish what most people might have thought was a fundamental freedom.”
But before we bake a cake in celebration, it would be wise to prepare for more legal challenges targeting Christian beliefs. The complainant, sexual diversity activist Gareth Lee, now says the ruling made him “feel like a second-class citizen”, adding: “I’m concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us.”
How exactly he thought the success of his case would benefit “every single one of us” is a mystery, since if he had succeeded, even gay people might have been compelled to say something with which they disagreed, although it is extremely unlikely that any Christian would have demanded that he affirm their beliefs regarding marriage or anything else.
Crucially, however, the MacArthurs defended themselves from being compelled to say something they did not believe. That is a step beyond people being allowed to say what they believe, a right which the Equality Act has taken away. Under the Act, if anyone in a “protected category” (except, of course, Christians) feels offended by someone else’s speech, the speaker is deemed to have committed an offence.
Regarding the Ashers bakery decision Supreme Court president Lady Hale warned: “This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination.” Since 2010 street preachers have been arrested and interrogated for preaching the Bible in public on the basis of complaints by individuals claiming to feel offended.
No longer do we hear people saying, “It’s a free country, isn’t it?” We are much more likely to hear them say, “Are you allowed to say that?” There is now an aggressive campaign for “exclusion zones” around abortion clinics to prevent Christian vigils offering support to women seeking abortion. Thus, even silent prayer – the right to believe something in the privacy of one’s own head — is being criminalised.
Our “fundamental freedoms” had to be fought for, but we are allowing them to slip away; the MacArthurs and their supporters deserve praise for staying the course and helping to protect everybody’s right not to be compelled to say what they do not believe. Now we have to fight for the right to say what we do believe. And when we regain that right, we can really celebrate.
Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).