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Equality law is destroying religious freedom, says top barrister

Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Bakery (PA)

Equality law in Northern Ireland is being used to destroy individual freedom, a leading Catholic barrister has said.

Following a legal ruling in Northern Ireland, in which a judge ruled that a bakery run by Christians discriminated against a gay customer by refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan, Neil Addison wrote on his personal blog: “The case will undoubtedly be appealed but what does emerge from it is the complete intolerance of the “equality” industry and the way in which equality law is being used to destroy individual freedom including the freedom of a bakery company to decide what products it wants to make.”

He continued: “We in Britain have just been celebrating the 70th anniversary of our victory in WW2 but frankly what are we celebrating, freedom, not if you run a bakery it would seem.”

The Northern Ireland Equality Commission brought the case against Ashers Baking Company, which is based in Co Antrim, on behalf of Gareth Lee, whose cake order was declined.

District judge Isobel Brownlie delivered the guilty verdict at Belfast County Court yesterday.

“The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination,” she said. “This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”

Neil Addison said that it was surprising that the judge ruled that the bakery had discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation. He said: “Northern Ireland is unique in the UK for in making discrimination on the grounds of political opinion explicitly unlawful and this arises from the long history of sectarian division in Northern Ireland where religion, nationality and political opinion were so often synonymous with British/Unionist/Protestant identity facing Irish/Republican/Catholic identity.

“Surprisingly in this case the judge held that the refusal of Ashers to bake the cake constituted direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation simply on the basis that the buyer, a Mr Lee, happened to be gay even though many supporters of gay marriage are heterosexual and similarly many gay people are opposed to gay marriage. As is usual in these cases the judge paid lip service to the Ashers rights to Religious Freedom under Article 9 and then stated that the law overode those rights.”

Both parties have agreed that £500 of damages are to be awarded to Mr Lee. Ashers’ general manager Daniel McArthur said the company will be seeking further legal advice after the “extremely” disappointing ruling.