Religious freedom was dealt another victory in the United Kingdom this week, with the Supreme Court ruling that two Christian bakers were within their rights to refuse to make a same-sex wedding cake.
“Ashers Baking Company, based in Northern Ireland, was taken to court after it declined to take an order at its Belfast branch in 2014 from Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist,” reports CNBC. “He had wanted the cake to include a slogan that said “support gay marriage” along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. The bakery initially took the order but later canceled it and refunded Lee.”
Similar to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in which baker Jack Philips was persecuted by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Ashers Baking Company had been warned by the Northern Irish Equality Commission they were guilty of discrimination against the same-sex couple, a decision that a Belfast court upheld. On Wednesday, all five judges in the Supreme Court were unanimous in overturning the Belfast ruling.
“In her summary, Lady Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, said the bakery had refused to bake a cake with a message on which they disagreed, and that this was ‘quite different’ from refusing service to a gay man with a certain political belief,” reports CNBC.
“The rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to freedom of expression were clearly engaged by this case … ,” the Justices wrote. “They include the right not to be obliged to manifest beliefs one does not hold.”
“The McArthurs could not refuse to provide their products to Mr. Lee because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage, but that was different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed,” they continued.
A current report indicates that legal fees for both sides come to a combined total of £450,000 ($592,000).
Daniel McArthur, a co-owner of Ashers, told reporters outside the courthouse that the ruling is a win for freedom of conscience.
“We’re particularly pleased that 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,” he said. “The judges have given a clear signal today. … 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.”