Family-run Ashers Baking Company should not be forced to promote a cause with which its owners profoundly disagree with, a columnist says.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Fionola Meredith said Ashers’ situation was “not a case of anti-gay discrimination” because the row is over a message – not an individual.
She made the comments ahead of the UK Supreme Court hearing arguments in the Christian Institute-backed legal case in Belfast this week.
Meredith explained that she supports same-sex marriage but disagrees with earlier court rulings against the Christian bakers.
She reiterated her comments from the time that: “No company should be under any obligation to facilitate the dissemination of beliefs that are antithetical to the ethos of that business.”
And Meredith stressed: “The message itself – not the customer requesting it – has always been the issue for Ashers.”
The columnist described the long-running legal case brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland as “costly, vexatious and divisive”.
She said it was not equality to force everyone to “disseminate political beliefs that they fundamentally disagree with”.
“It is not tolerance. It is not freedom. If Ashers lose this week, we all lose”.
Meredith’s comments came as Laura Perrins, co-editor of The Conservative Woman, said “compelled speech: endorse my view or else” is at the heart of the case.
She pointed out that Ashers is a small business and “to make them write this slogan is to force them to endorse something, a political idea, against their conscience”.
“Perhaps the courts cannot understand how personal this is to the McArthurs, and how it does indeed involve compelled speech”, Perrins said, adding: “Therefore, to compel the McArthurs to endorse a view against their conscience is totalitarian”.
She concluded by warning that if Ashers lost, other businesses would also be negatively affected.
Ahead of the case, Daniel McArthur – General Manager of Ashers – said the fact that the Supreme Court is hearing the arguments “shows they recognise the seriousness of the issues at stake”.
The Christian Institute is supporting the McArthur family, and is running a petition to enable others to show their support.