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Sweet victory for Christian bakers’ freedom of conscience: Europe’s top court tosses out attempt to re-open cake dispute

  • UK Supreme Court’s protection  of freedom of conscience for service providers remains final word on cake dispute after European Court of Human Rights throws out activist pursuit of Christian bakers 
  • Northern Irish bakers Daniel & Amy McArthur will not be forced to ice messages that are incompatible with their religious beliefs 

STRASBOURG/BELFAST (6 January 2022) – Should creative professionals be forced to express messages that contradict their own values and beliefs? Not according to the outcome of the Ashers Bakery case, which activists attempted to re-open at the European Court of Human Rights. This morning, the top human rights court in Europe has dismissed an attempt to reverse the decision of the UK Supreme Court, which upheld freedom of conscience for Christian bakers Daniel and Amy McArthur. The move will be a relief to creative professionals and service providers across Europe.

“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 protected the religious rights of service providers. The European Court of Human Rights has rejected attempts at altering this good outcome, and we are delighted that this just decision remains intact today,” said Lorcan Price, legal counsel for ADF International.

Daniel and Amy McArthur, who own the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, faced a lengthy court battle starting in 2014 when they declined to create a cake with the customised 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 unanimously held that the bakery had acted lawfully.

In 2019 Mr. Lee took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where ADF International intervened in support of freedom of conscience.

 

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 including 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. The good outcome established by the UK Supreme Court, which affirms the basic but important idea that it is not good to compel people to violate their convictions, remains the final word on the story,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director for ADF International.

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