Ashers “gay cake” ruling due today: a recap of what is at stake

I have gone spoken about the Asher’s Bakery case here, here, here and here. Over four years after the infamous cake at the centre of this cake was ordered, the Supreme Court will today give a final ruling in this hotly contested case.

I will offer some further comment when I have seen the judgement. At this point, I want to quickly recap what is at stake.

Peter Lynas, a former barrister and NI director of the Evangelical Alliance, has said this:

Ashers discriminated against an idea, not a person. While the law rightly prohibits the later, the former is not only allowed, but encouraged in a healthy democratic society. Many people don’t realise that Mr Lee had used the bakery before and the company remains happy to serve him. However, they will not, and should not, be forced to promote a view contrary to their firmly held religious beliefs.

It is also worth noting that LGBT+ and civil rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, has rightly argued, the consequences of a ruling against the bakery are terrifying. The Attorney General has also argued that the Sexual Orientation Regulations directly discriminate against those who hold religious beliefs and political opinions and should thus be struck down.

At heart, this case is not about discrimination against the person. The case now centres on the appropriateness of compelled speech. In other words, is it ever right to insist people affirm a belief or idea with which they deeply disagree?

The answer may have chilling ramifications. If the original decision is upheld, Muslim printers may be forced to produce materials mocking the prophet Mohammad, Jewish bakers could be compelled to produce cakes celebrating holocaust denial and countless service providers could be made to actively promote political campaigns and organisations with whom they deeply disagree.

It doesn’t matter with whom your sympathy lies on the matter at hand. What matters is the fundamental principle at stake. If it is acceptable in this case to insist a bakery produce good supporting a political campaign with which they deeply disagree, there is no end to potential breadth of compelled speech. You could readily be forced to affirm – and lend your creative expertise – to ideas, campaigns and activities that you find deeply disturbing and offensive.

As I have said before:

Whether you care for the particular views of the bakery or not, we should all be rooting for them to win. The consequences of the decision going the other way will have ramifications for us all. At best, it will mean any speech the government determine should be compelled will be. At worst, it may mean anybody who wants to force someone else to disseminate any offensive and vile view may do so. Whilst such offensive views should be permitted in a free and fair society, something is seriously awry when we compel others to advocate them whether on a cake, t-shirt, book or any other medium. We may end up in a ludicrous situation in which certain views are simultaneously entirely unsayable whilst compelling they be advocated by those providing services to the public.