The United Kingdom’s highest court last week rebuffed an assault on the liberty of a Christian baker.
In 2014, the family-owned Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland had turned down an order for a cake that would have featured Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, and the campaign slogan, “Support Gay Marriage.” The publicly-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) led a legal challenge against the bakers and in lower courts had been successful in punishing them for alleged discrimination.
However, in what some observers consider to be an even stronger victory than the recent Masterpiece cake artist case in the U.S., the UK Supreme Court unanimously rejected ECNI’s position. The court found that this case was about the treatment “afforded to the message not to the man.” Delivering the 5-0 ruling, Supreme Court president Lady Hale affirmed that businesses could not refuse service because a customer was gay or supported gay marriage. However, she said:
[T]hat important fact does not amount to a justification for something completely different - obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed. In my view they would be entitled to refuse to do that whatever the message conveyed by the icing on the cake - support for living in sin, support for a particular political party, support for a particular religious denomination. The fact that this particular message had to do with sexual orientation is irrelevant to the FETO claim
After the ruling, Ashers’ general manager David McArthur, who has been supported by the Christian Institute in the UK, welcomed the high court’s emphasis on their point that they did not act against a person but a message. “The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact, it couldn’t be clearer. Family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can – without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns,” he said.
Learn more about this case from the Christian Institute here.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: October 19, 2018