Evangelicals in the United Kingdom secured a major legal victory for freedom of conscience today, as the nation’s Supreme Court ruled on behalf of a Christian bakery that declined to fulfill an order for a pro-gay cake.
The high court declared that the owners of Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland, could not be compelled to promote a message that went against their beliefs—in this case, a Bert and Ernie cake celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia.
“The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to [customer and LGBT activist] Mr. Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed,” said Supreme Court president Lady Hale, delivering the opinion in the unanimous 5–0 ruling.
The court’s reasoning resembled the defense made for Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Christian-owned bakery in Colorado that famously won at the US Supreme Court last June over its refusal to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop victory hinged on the state’s biased enforcement of religious freedom accommodations and ended up being a narrower ruling than its Christian supporters had hoped for, without universally granting broader protections for compelled speech.
In contrast, the UK decision is being celebrated as a bigger victory.
“The key outcome of today’s ruling is that no one can be compelled to say anything that they profoundly disagree with,” according to the UK Evangelical Alliance.
The ruling defended the bakers’ protections under the European Convention on Human Rights, saying “…obliging a person to manifest a belief which he does not hold has been held to be a limitation on his article 9(1) rights [freedom of religion or belief]” and “the freedom not to be obliged to hold or manifest beliefs that one does not hold is also protected by article 10 of the Convention [freedom of expression].”
“The court found that there was no discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, and ultimately concluded that compelled speech would not have been justified in this case,” said Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, noting that all charges of discrimination lodged against Ashers owners Daniel and Amy McArthur had been dismissed.
Read more at Christianity Today.