- European Court of Human Rights to hear case of Lee v UK on conscience protections for service providers in Europe
- UK Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland in 2018
STRASBOURG/BELFAST (13 May 2020) – Are we still free to act in accordance with our deeply held beliefs? The owners of Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland had to face a lengthy lawsuit after refusing to produce a cake promoting a message contrary to their deeply held Christian beliefs about marriage. In 2018, the UK Supreme Court upheld their fundamental right to freedom of conscience. Mr Lee, who ordered the cake, has now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights. ADF International seeks to intervene in Lee v UK to highlight the international legal protections which exist and the way similar cases have been approached in other countries.
“Nobody should be forced to act against their deeply held beliefs. The right to freedom of religion and conscience must contain the right to act accordingly, including in a professional setting. Personal beliefs and conscience influence all areas of a person’s life and are not simply laid down in a professional setting. In its judgment in 2018 the UK Supreme Court rightly upheld the conscience rights of service providers,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Strasbourg.
Freedom of conscience in Europe
In 2018, the Supreme Court of the UK ruled that Mr Lee had not been discriminated against when Ashers Baking Company declined his order for a cake decorated with the message “Support Gay Marriage”. In its ruling, the Court upheld the right to freedom of conscience for the owners of the bake In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court held that “The bakery could not refuse to provide a cake – or any other of their products – to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage. But that important fact does not amount to a justification for something completely different – obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”
“In its judgment, the UK Supreme Court drew attention to the fact that Ashers declined to promote a particular message, and did not decline to serve any particular customer. In fact, the evidence was that Ashers had previously served this very customer. If a family bakery can be forced to promote a message to which it objects, the implications are wide-ranging. The conscience rights of everyone, from medical professionals and pharmacists to printers and designers, are at stake. They risk costly lawsuits, fines, the loss of reputation, and social stigmatisation. Nobody should face this simply for living in accordance with what they believe,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.