Well, there’s a surprise! Ashers Bakery, the Christian-run cake shop in Belfast, has been found guilty of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake carrying the slogan Support Gay Marriage.
Yes, I know, the letter of the law has been applied and on that basis there couldn’t have been any other verdict … but to quote one of our national treasures, the law, in this particular instance, is an ass. Especially given that, in other seemingly comparable situations, its application might well have found the direct opposite. Because sadly, these days, the law can seem not just selective, but even perverse, not infrequently giving the impression that the courts decide on the verdict they want beforehand, and then scrabble around for justification.
Let’s think about this a little. Does the fact someone is offering ‘a service’ really mean the provider has no choice whether or not to promote something he or she sincerely believes to be wrong? Did the judge in this case really wish to decide that in 21st century Britain there is no longer any right of conscience? Because – worryingly – that is what it sounds like.
Consider, for instance, this scenario – as a member of the modern equivalent of the Paedophile Information Exchange, I go into a print shop and place an order for 5000 t-shirts carrying the slogan, ‘Paedophiles are born that way – support the campaign to legalize paedophilia’? The print shop owner, in common with large numbers of the population, believes that child abuse (which is what this is) can never be justified, whatever the desires, brain configuration or anything else of would-be adult perpetrators. Accordingly, he tells me to sling my hook because my campaign is against everything he believes.
Would the judge, if this were to come to court, really say the print shop had no choice in the matter, because they were service providers and not guardians of morality? After all, the slogan couldn’t be construed as an incitement to commit a crime, but merely to support a campaign to bring about a change to the law. As of course was the situation when gay rights activist Gareth Lee went into Ashers Bakery. He wanted to make a point with the aim of bringing about a change to the law in Northern Ireland, where same sex marriage currently remains illegal.
The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that the law is subject to interpretation. But this leaves us with a problem because, whatever may be said to the contrary, it means that the goal posts are no longer fixed, and that a law ostensibly designed to ensure freedom of speech and equality for all, combined with the protection of minorities, can be used actively to discriminate against individuals resistant to change. In fact, the only thing that does seem clear is that if you belong to the LGBT community you can say and do absolutely anything you want. But if you’re a Christian who dares quote the Bible or stand up for your faith, you’re a wicked and intolerant bigot who must be rigorously suppressed.
With the greatest respect to District Judge Isobel Brownlie, who sat in the Ashers case, this seems to me a rather strange application of freedom, equality and diversity. Some might even level the charge that the law was used to provide protection for a small but dominant cultural elite, whose sole aim was to attack Christians holding a divergent belief. On which line of reasoning, it would seem that some indeed are more free than others.
Which I suspect was one of the prime complaints made by the barons against King John in the run up to Magna Carta in 1215. John, it will be remembered, said he could do whatever he wanted because he was king and he made the law. But the barons not unreasonably objected, and by the time they got to Runnymede the country was on the brink of war. The resulting peace treaty emphasized that all alike – king and commoner – were subject to the overriding law of God, and by virtue of that fact all had rights. From this basic truth came not just freedom of religion and conscience, but, in time, the right to freedom of speech, and all the other freedoms that today we take for granted.
So how today have we come to a place where these freedoms are so visibly under threat?
The answer is blindingly simple. Since Anglo-Saxon times it was believed that men and women, being made in the image of God, were all alike worthy of honour and respect . All had ‘rights’. But today, society has attempted to remake God in the image of fallen man, reconfiguring morality, with the unfortunate result that we are no longer all equal, and certain ’rights’ take priority. Specifically, Christians have been morally and ontologically disenfranchised, because our values conflict with, and therefore endanger, the new belief system.
This is wrong. If our faith has any truth or validity, then we have to defend it and not give way to the bully-boy tactics of a would-be totalitarian elite.
On 15th June, to coincide with the actual sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, VfJUK is holding a Rally calling for the preservation of our liberties, and the safeguarding of genuine freedom, equality and diversity.
Even though going on a Rally probably isn’t your kind of thing, please make a special effort to join us at 12 noon on Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament….
Enough is enough – Time to reclaim the ground
Where: Old Palace Yard, Westminster
When: Monday 15th June 2015
Time: 12.00 – 14.00