While there has been much talk over the past few years about Christian bakers and “gay cakes” in the United States, there has been a strikingly similar legal battle working its way through the court system of the United Kingdom, and it just reached a refreshingly surprising conclusion.
The Washington Examiner reported that the U.K. Supreme Court just ruled unanimously in favor of Christian bakery owners who had refused to bake a custom cake bearing the message “Support Gay Marriage” for an LGBT activist, which had led to a contentious lawsuit four years ago.
That is rather huge, considering the freedoms of religion and speech are far less protected in the U.K. than in the U.S., as they have not been enshrined as sacred rights of the people in a constitution, not to mention the U.K.’s generally leftward ideological drift.
In 2014, LGBT activist Gareth Lee had ordered a cake featuring “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie and the “Support Gay Marriage” message, and promptly sued the bakery for discrimination based on sexual orientation and political views when the baker declined to fulfill the order.
But the owners of Northern Ireland’s Ashers Baking Company, Amy and Daniel McArthur, have maintained since that time that they refused service simply because they objected to the desired message on the proposed cake, and not the sexual orientation or ideological viewpoints of the individual ordering it.
Lee’s lawsuit, which had the backing of the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, initially won in a Belfast court in 2015. However, that ruling was appealed and the case eventually made its way to the U.K. Supreme Court for a hearing.
The BBC reported that, following the unanimous decision by the five justices in favor of the Christian baker, Daniel McArthur said, “I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone.”
“We’re particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along — we did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself,” McArthur added in a separate story by the BBC.
“The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact, it couldn’t be any clearer,” he continued. “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.”
Lee told the BBC that his cake order had never been about any sort of campaign or special statement, but was simply about a cake, and claimed that the refusal to fulfill his order had rendered him a “second-class citizen.” Lee said, “I’m concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us.”
There were a number of officials on both sides of the debate who issued comments both for and against the court’s ruling, and the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland announced that they would carefully study the ruling to determine all of the ramifications it may hold for the future.
“There is a concern that this judgement may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect,” said Dr. Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the ECNI, according to the BBC.
It is worth noting that even some who supported Lee’s lawsuit and stood clearly opposed to the ideological viewpoints of the McArthurs, nevertheless agreed that the court had made the correct ruling, as the basic premise of the lawsuit — forcing a business owner to promote a message they disagree with — could easily be applied to others in arguably even more egregious ways.
The BBC reported a liberal Human Rights Campaigner named Peter Tatchell said, “Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.”
“If the original judgement against Ashers had been upheld, it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial,” Tatchell added.
It cannot be understated just how significant this supreme court ruling truly is — a veritable game changer — as it sets a precedent for the protection of free speech and freedom of conscience, and could signal a turning point for such protections in civilized Western societies going forward more broadly.
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