PLATFORM: James Gillies, The Christian Institute

We are extremely disappointed by the ruling against Ashers Baking Company. It will also sadden all those who value freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

The McArthurs are Christians, and it is their sincerely-held belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

So last year this family politely declined an order for a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan because they knew they could not promote a cause with which they fundamentally disagree.

In making her ruling, the judge recognised that there were competing rights in this case but has favoured sexual orientation over religious belief.

The judge said that she believed the McArthur family knew Gareth Lee was gay – but they did not.

It has always been clear that the reason for declining the order was the message – not the customer. Ashers did not know the sexual orientation of Mr Lee; it was not relevant. The company is, and has always been, happy to serve everyone.

We are also baffled by the court’s decision to uphold the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s claim of political discrimination.

The ruling suggests all business owners now have to be willing to promote any political cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it.

The law against political discrimination was brought in for the specific political situation here in Northern Ireland – not to attack Christians living out faithful lives in their businesses.

It is far from clear where the law will go from here but we believe this ruling will result in very real concern and confusion.

This decision represents a serious blow for free speech and raises the prospect of an avalanche of similar legal cases in the future.

In his legal opinion, Aidan O'Neill QC has already warned us that a whole host of people could be dragged through the courts if Ashers were to lose this case:

: Muslim printers prosecuted for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed

: a lesbian-owned T-shirt company prosecuted for refusing to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”

: a printing company run by Roman Catholics prosecuted for declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.

We know that the majority of people in Northern Ireland think it would be wrong to prosecute a business owner for raising such objections.

A Com Res poll conducted in March this year found that almost eight in 10 believe a Muslim printer should not be taken to court for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed.

And almost three-quarters, 74 per cent, believe that a printing company run by Roman Catholics should not be forced by legal action to produce adverts calling for abortion to be legalised.

But these kinds of legal actions are exactly where we are headed.

The McArthurs, like countless other Christian business owners across the country, simply want to live and work in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Their faith determines how they live, bring up their children and run their business. They cannot be expected to abandon it when they go to work in the morning and they should not be required to do so.

The family and their lawyers will now examine their options for an appeal.

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