Category Archives: faith

Summary of the Ashers court case

Today ended the third day of the court case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Ltd. in Laganside Court Belfast. A good source of in court reporting was the Tweets of Belfast Telegraph Deborah McAleese. It is largely from there that we have pulled the following facts from the proceedings.

The facts of the purchase:

The first thing to note is that the order was placed at the Royal Avenue branch of Ashers six stores. For those who do not know Belfast this is the main shopping street in Belfast City Centre. The store is only slightly down the road on the other side of the street from Tesco and the Castle Court shopping centre is across the street on the other side. This location is also less than 5 minutes walk from the LGBT Centre on Waring Street where Queer Space who were ordering the cake and Gareth Lee was based, also Gareth had used them many times before, which ought to shut up conspiracy theorists.

The order was talked about with Karen McArthur, the mother of the general manager and herself a director of the company. She did not tell Mr Lee that there would be any issues with the cake but took full payment along with the order. There was no design work having to be done by Ashers as the artwork was provided with the order.

The cake was to have the name of the campaign organisation Queen Space and the message Support Gay Marriage. No mention of Ashers on the cake.

There was a leaflet displaying Ashers cake service which the members of the McArthur family admitted doesn’t mention any limitations to graphics that can be provided.

The evidence of Karen McArthur

She said she knew in her heart at the time she took the order that the company could not complete the order. She said that the reason she did not tell Mr Lee this at the time was because she didn’t want to embarrass him or cause a confrontation in the shop.

The reason Mrs McArthur knew she would be unable to complete the order was the message was contrary to her Christian belief. However, he also acknowledged that they leaflet also carried pictures of a Halloween cake with witches on it.

She also when asked, “Do you not think you should have immediately told Mr Lee (the order would not be fulfilled)?” she replied no.

The evidence of Daniel McArthur

The son and managing director, admitted that after the issue was brought to his attention he raised it with a elder in his church for his view. He also admitted that he had never really thought about the witch imagery being contrary to the same Christian belief, though said he was unaware of that image being on the leaflet as another member of staff had designed it. However, it was pointed out to him in court that the literature had been available for about 2 years.

He also said “We doing it in defiance of the law. Before God it’s not something we could do.” in relation to turning down the order.

The conclusions

The lawyer for Ashers said that this wasn’t a case of sexual discrimination and that a heterosexual ordering the same cake would be turned away. But the lawyer for Mr Lee said that with the word gay on the cake and the messaging it was clearly intended for a group that would involve gay people and supported them, even if the plaintiff wasn’t, therefore it was indirect discrimination.

The lawyer for Mr Lee also said that the reason given in public by the McArthurs for their refusal was based on their religious views. And therefore it was impinging his political and sexual orientation rights. It was also he argued breaching contract law as the payment was taken upon the full conditions being expressed.

The lawyer for the McArthurs argued that they shouldn’t have to put a message they felt unable to endorse unto a cake, but the lawyer for Mr Lee claimed that they weren’t being asked to endorse the message and nobody would ask if the bakery had done on seeing the cake. He finished with the fact that once a barrister enters into a contract to represent someone he doesn’t necessarily have to agree with gay marriage to defend a client over their views of it.

 

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New term, same old prejudice

The MLAs are back up on the hill but already the list of motions and proposed amendments makes for horrid reading for the LGBT community.

One of North Down’s DUP MLAs Peter Weir on the 1 September one that reads:

Equal Marriage

That this Assembly notes that numerous Motions have reaffirmed that no support exists for the introduction of equal marriage; and agrees that further consideration would be pointless during the remainder of this Assembly term.

In other words seeking to place an almost 2 year petition of concern on any further discussion on the issue until after the elections in May 2016. This would even therefore no doubt continue the DUP’s contempt of judicial process were a legal challenge be raised in Northern Irish courts about the inequality of equal marriages from the rest of the UK being only recognised a civil partnerships here, or the fact that LGBT people here do not have equal access to marriage as the remainder of the UK.

There is also one that is more innocently worded again from Mr Weir and his West Tyrone colleague Tom Buchanan:

Conscience Clause

That this Assembly notes the increasing number of cases across the UK in which the freedom of religion is afforded a lesser priority than other fundamental freedoms; acknowledges that this gradation of fundamental rights often leads to people of faith leaving their employment or being forced out of business; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward legislation to introduce a conscience clause for people of faith to allow them to exercise religious freedom in the workplace.

This is the oh my god moment, pardon the pun. For a start freedom of religion is not afforded anything less than other freedoms, they are all treated equally. But the wording of this clause is to make freedom of religion superior to all others. Allowing people of faith the ability of exercise their religious freedom in the workplace means that small business owners could because of the loose wording of this proposal refuse to serve people whose lifestyle they disagree with. We all know that this will not necessarily affect unmarried heterosexuals in the same way that it will affect homosexuals. If two men or women walk in together some of those who cry out about their religious freedom are far more likely to turn them away than two people of opposite sex.

This is further backed up by another DUP motion in the name of Paul Girvan (Lagan valley) and Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) which names a specific high profile case of the above:

Reasonable Accommodation in Equality Legislation

That this Assembly notes with concern the action taken by the Equality Commission against Ashers Bakery; and calls for a review of equality legislation that will provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of service providers in the provision of goods, services and facilities.

The fact is that of course initially this business took and order then under discussion turned it down. The proximity of a bakery to the city centre must surely mean that they must get all manner of requests for custom cakes for organisations based in the city centre does Ashers have to agree with the aims of every one of them before taking an order? This is company who has claimed that they faith is paramount yet while their shops themselves are closed on a Sunday in respect of their faith their products are available in Garden Centres and shops that do open on a Sunday with their branding on them. But it is another call for a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs again against only one other minority sector as laid out in Section 75.

Of course all of these have merely been laid before the business committee there is no date for when or even if they will come before the committee but there are three direct attacks on the LGBT community one clear it its intention that no matter what progress may be made elsewhere on equal marriage there is no way that the DUP is going to allow legislation to move on before 2016.

The other two are more thinly veiled but a reading between the lines of them shows what their intent is. The conscience clause was mentioned in light of the Ashers case and it was clear that the DUP spokespeople wanted to have religious freedom usurp equality irregardless of sexual orientation.

So there are three motions laid down by members of the DUP that aim to either place religion above the rights of LGBT people to be treated equally, and in one a way to stifle debate for 2 years on an issue that is fast changing across the USA and the world as we speak. The continuation of the DUP to institutionalise their homophobia through the niceties of Assembly procedure and their veiled attempt to bring in animal farm style all freedoms are equal but some are more equal than others is a horrifying read in this the 21st Century.

 

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In response to Dr Hazlett Lynch

Those of us in Northern Ireland who read the Newsletter letters page are well aware of Dr J E Hazlett Lynch. He makes another appearance in today’s letters page with the following:

MAY I use your columns to ask if anyone knows what the position of the churches is after the close victory in the Assembly (50:45) in favour of the traditional view of marriage?

I know that some of those politicians who voted against marriage as understood in the scriptures and who abstained or absented themselves from that vote claim to be church members.

Do the churches of which these politicians are members still hold to the biblical understanding of marriage and, if so, are they prepared to tolerate those within their membership who have publicly either voted against and undermined church teaching and/or absented/abstained from the vote?

What steps will churches take to discipline those who acted thus?

There have been many cases in ecclesiastical history that the church has taken different views on a number of issues. Something that an historian like Dr Lynch should be aware of. The abolition of slavery, universal suffrage for women and before that female property rights and mixed race marriage; all have these have seen Christians on different sides of the argument. Here in Northern Ireland we even saw one Christian side gerrymandering election districts to keep the other out as recently as the 1960s and 70s at the behest of their Churches. Also one of our Churches leaders as an elected representative to the European Parliament was ejected for calling the Pope the anti-Christ as recently as 1988. So when we call for our politicians to follow the

Indeed if any lesson should be drawn from history it is this pastor from a church in Missouri recently.

So in answer to Dr Lynch’s question there hasn’t been an established church in the island of Ireland since 1871 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. So the church does not have a direct role in the government of our nation.  We also have The Agreement which sets out a number of freedoms which include:

Human Rights
1. The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil
rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against
the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties
affirm in particular:

• the right of free political thought;
• the right to freedom and expression of religion;
• the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
• the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
• the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;

That right to free political thought applies to members of churches as much as the non-churched. There is also a freedom and expression of each individual’s religion, which includes to what extent they separate their personal faith from their public responsibilities. This may be the issue that Dr Lynch cannot comprehend, it is possible to have a faith yet listen to the needs and wants of those that do not share that faith, or even just one interpretation of that faith, and come to a conclusion of what is best that isn’t solely blinkered by one’s religious world view.

What Dr Lynch and many others who take the view that those of faith betrayed their faith missed from the motion was that there was a call for strong protection to be put into legislation so that those who held a particular faith few that was contrary would not be persecuted for disagreeing. Therefore managing to cover a number of the freedoms listed above, ironically while also supporting possibly the position of their own faith group while voting in favour of equal marriage.

Of course there are biblical laws on all sorts of issues including adultery that result in a death penalty, yet we don’t follow all those rulings from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the letter. Yet I don’t see cries for church discipline to be brought in for those other underminings of the tradition view of marriage, just to keep it in context.

However, the myopia of Dr Lynch over the way the motion was worded does not prevent him calling on those who have exercised both their freedom of political thought to have the same bearing as their freedom to expression of religion. He is saying that the latter should take precedence over the former when to govern fully both need their freedom, something that the original motion did take into consideration.

That my dear Doctor is my response to you on this issue.

 

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