ADF International

Freedom of conscience on trial: Ashers Bakery case before top European court


  • European Court of Human Rights to hear case regarding protections for service providers in Europe
  • ADF International intervenes in support of freedom of conscience

STRASBOURG/BELFAST (29 October 2020) – Freedom of conscience is on trial for 820 million Europeans at the upcoming case of Lee v. UK at the European Court of Human Rights. Daniel and Amy McArthur, who own the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, faced a lengthy court battle staring in 2014 when they declined to create a cake with the customized message, “Support Gay Marriage”. The couple, though perfectly willing to serve the customer, found that the fulfilment of this particular request would be incompatible with their deeply-held religious beliefs. With the support of the tax-payer funded Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, Gareth Lee, who had ordered the cake, sued the bakery for discrimination, with UK charity, the Christian Institute, supporting the McArthur family. In October 2018 the UK Supreme Court held that unlawful discrimination had not taken place. In 2019 Mr. Lee took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“Nobody should be forced to act against their deeply held beliefs. Nor should they be forced to choose between their conscience and their profession. The right to freedom of religion and conscience contains the right to act accordingly, including in a professional setting. In its judgment in 2018 the UK Supreme Court rightly upheld the religious rights of service providers,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Strasbourg.

Freedom of conscience in Europe must not become a “dead letter”

The European Convention on Human Rights, which is overseen by the European Court in Strasbourg, guarantees the right to freedom of religion and belief under Article 9 of the Convention. The Strasbourg Court has consistently found that freedom of thought, conscience and religion “would remain a dead letter” without the right to manifest such beliefs in practice. The issues in the Ashers Bakery case reflect wider concerns that citizens across Europe face when anti-discrimination laws are misapplied to prevent them living out their faith through their business and professional lives.

“In its judgment, the UK Supreme Court drew attention to the fact that the Ashers Baking Company declined to create a particular message; crucially, they did not decline to serve any particular customer. In fact, the evidence was that the bakery had previously served Mr. Lee without difficulty. If creative professionals are forced to create messages with which they profoundly disagree, the implications are wide-ranging for many others in society,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.