Peter Tatchell’s change of heart on Asher’s is wrong

As the appeal against the Asher’s judgement approaches, Peter Tatchell has had a change of heart, and bought the lie drummed up by the Christian apologist groups the Christian Institute and Evangelical Alliance that their freedom of expression was impinged.

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'Bob Bobbins' passes Asher's Baking Co. at Belfast Pride 2015. Photo by Colin Morrison, all rights reserved

Tatchell argues that Gareth Lee’s sexuality didn’t play a part in the refusal to provide service – a straight person would have been denied too. However, Justice Brownlie explained that it was not the fact of his sexuality but the perception of it, or those he associated with, that was the issue.

Judge Brownlie found, on the evidence before her, that the defendants did have the knowledge or perception that the plaintiff was gay and/or associated with others who are gay.

Tatchell also argues that the judgement of discrimination on grounds of political opinion is worrying.

This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier?

If the company is limited, a profit making entity, it has no religious character. It cannot be Muslim, or Jewish, or Christian. If you want exemption from equality laws, then become a church, then you can withhold not only service but employment, as gay hospital chaplain Rev Canon Jeremy Pemberton found out. As Justice Brownlie said:

“The defendants are entitled to continue to hold their genuine and deeply held religious beliefs and to manifest them but, in accordance with the law, not to manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others.”

We’ve previously pointed out that Asher’s management never tried to fulfil the order via one of their 60+ staff, who did not share the management’s objections.

Justice Brownlie also made clear that provision of service “did not require them to support, promote or endorse any viewpoint”.

There are also clearly understood boundaries of obscenity and hate speech. “Support equal marriage” falls a long way short of either.

Tatchell finishes with a further confusion of the person and the business:

In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.

We’ve already established that limited companies do not enjoy the same freedoms as the person, because they are not people. This echoes the Hobby Lobby case in USA, which successfully argued for freedom of religion for a business. The ramifications of such a decision could have far reaching consequences for minority rights including fair employment.

Meanwhile, the Christian Institute continues to promote the McArthurs as their anointed martyrs with the unabashed support of both the Belfast Telegraph and News Letter. They push a false persecution narrative to raise funds by donation, proselytise their version of Christianity, and roll back hard-won rights in favour of religious bigotry, with the Orwellian use of the language of rights.

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