The general public have indicated that they believe business owners should not face legal action for declining customer requests which conflict with their religious beliefs.
A survey conducted by ComRes of 2,000 adults showed that 65 per cent of participants believed that Christian bakers who decline to produce a cake bearing the words “support gay marriage” should not be taken to court.
In 2014 Northern Ireland bakery Ashers refused to take an order for a cake bearing that slogan because of the owners’ Christian beliefs. The owners, Daniel and Amy McArthur, were taken to court for breaching equality laws and last month Belfast’s appeal court upheld the legal ruling against them.
However, the case could now be heard in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, after Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin said he intends to refer the case to it.
The survey also revealed showed support for a Muslim printer’s freedom to choose not to print a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad (68 per cent), a Catholic printer’s freedom to decline to print pro-choice adverts (63 per cent) and an atheist web designer’s decision not to create a website about creationism (70 per cent).
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Coalition for Marriage and took place on November 4, 2016. Dr Sharon James, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage described the results as “a real eye-opener”.
“It shows that the majority of people believe that businessmen and women who hold religious or philosophical beliefs should not face being sued for declining to provide services that promote the views of those they fundamentally disagree with,” she said.
“The fact that they are being sued – and losing – shows that laws protecting free speech and freedom of religion need to be reviewed. They are failing to protect people from legal action for simply holding traditional beliefs, or unconventional and challenging views. The law – or its interpretation – is out of step with mainstream public opinion, which embraces diversity, dissent and debate.”