When the Government Doesn’t Protect Convictions No One is Free

Posted on February 10, 2016 in Marriage, Religious Freedom by

Ashers Baking company“You have to do this, there is no choice … you must do this, no matter what your conscience tells you, no matter how hard, never mind that you couldn’t do that, you have to do it we demand it of you.”

Those words come from Daniel McArthur, general manager of Ashers Baking Company, as he describes what it is like to have the government demand he and his family of Christians make a cake with a message that violates their religious beliefs.

It all started when a man asked for a cake with the words “support gay marriage” on it. McArthur and the people at Ashers refused to make it citing their religious beliefs. A legal battle ensued and the government sided with the customer saying that Ashers had violated the Equality Act and “discriminated” against the man. Ashers was fined $765 for “injury to feelings” and told to make the cake.

By the way, this all happened in Norther Ireland where gay marriage is illegal.

Rather than accept the fine and the order to make the cake Ashers is fighting back in court saying that the government cannot demand a person violate his or her religious beliefs or conscience. McArthur has said that he cannot separate his religious beliefs and his daily life. He doesn’t leave his convictions at church each Sunday. This sentiment is one felt by most true Christians as they seek to live out their faith each and every day, not just Sunday.

The distinction that some are starting to understand is between discrimination against a person and an idea. Whether in Europe or the United States, Christian bakers, florists, and photographers have served homosexual people with respect. But what they cannot and will not do is to support an idea that violates their religious beliefs.

In this particular instance. Ashers is arguing quite correctly that they did not discriminate against the customer but refused to support the idea the customer wanted written on the cake. Had the customer asked for a cake with “I’m happy today” he would have gotten it without a second thought – gay or not gay. But asking a Christian baker to produce a cake with the message “support gay marriage” is asking that baker to violate his or her deeply held religious convictions. These are two very different scenarios.

Even prominent gay actor Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek and X-Men) has come out in support of Ashers. Stewart said:

“It was not because it was a gay couple that they objected — it was not because they were celebrating some kind of marriage or an agreement between them. It was the actual words on the cake that they objected to, because they found the words offensive. And I would support their rights to say, ‘No, this is personally offensive to my beliefs. I will not do it.’”

And a prominent gay rights activist that initially supported the government’s position in punishing Ashers has since reversed his stance and said Ashers has a right to refuse to bake the cake.

Peter Tatchell runs a gay rights organization and supported the discrimination charge against the bakery, at first. But as the case has continued he says that there is a difference between discrimination against a person and refusing to support an idea, and has reversed his position. He wrote an article stating:

“[The law was] designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed…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.”

Very well stated: “discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.”

If we cannot refuse to support ideas in accordance with our religious beliefs and our consciences, there will be no division of ideas. All ideas will flow from the central power that has the ability to demand support for the idea. In this case, the government. So the thought that a person cannot refuse to support an idea is frightening. And Tatchell goes on to extrapolate that frightening thought to its logical end:

“This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.”

You see, if one group cannot stand up for their religious convictions and deeply held beliefs, no one can. There will come a point in time when the government will demand adherence to its ideas regardless of personal objection. That should scare any person that values freedom, individuality, and liberty. In that government-controlled world there will be absolute equality because no one will be free. That’s not a world to be desired.

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