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Religious Freedom and the New Repression: The Gay Cake Wars - where equality and freedom clash.

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posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 03:10 PM

My favourite British online magazine, Spiked, in association with ADF International, held a half-day religious freedom conference in London recently with the title 'Enemies of the State: Religious Freedom and the New Repression. Spiked is an intellectual magazine primarily aimed at academia.

A registrar sacked for refusing to oversee a civil partnership; a pastor arrested for preaching fire and brimstone from his own pulpit; a teacher fired for praying for a sick child. Over the past few years, examples of religious freedom being abridged have proliferated. So what is going on? Are we entering a new era of intolerance towards the faithful? Or a brave new world of equality?

The conference included three exploratory sessions/discussions (different panels) followed by questions from the audience. The conference sessions have been made available on YouTube.

Panel 1: The conscience question: are we free people?

Panel 2: The cake wars: when equality and freedom clash

Panel 3: The hate trap: should we be free to hate?

My thread gives an overview of the second session, which uses the Northern Ireland appeal court ruling on the Asher's gay cake issue last October, as a basis for the discussion. In broader terms, the panel looks at freedom of conscience and whether this implies a freedom to discriminate as well as questioning if the the move towards equality and tolerance, is in fact, moving in the opposite direction.

For those not familiar with the case:

The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have lost their appeal against a ruling that their refusal to make a "gay cake" was discriminatory. Appeal court judges said that, under law, the bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who agreed with their religious beliefs.

Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake iced with the slogan: "Support Gay Marriage". The order was placed at its Belfast shop by gay rights activist Gareth Lee.

BBC Link

The panel consists of:

Peter Tatchell, a campaigner for Human Rights and LGBT rights for half a century. Peter defends freedom of speech as a fundamental right and has been arrested numerous times for expressing his right to freedom of expression.

Joshua Rozenberg is a writer, commentator and broadcaster specialising in law and is the first journalist to receive a honorary QC. Rozenberg also presents Radio 4's long-running legal magazine programme "Law in Action".

Simon Calvert is Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Christian Institute, a non-denominational Christian charity which is committed to the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the UK. The Christian Institute backed the McArthur family in the Asher's Bakery case through their legal defence fund.

The panel initially have 5 minutes each prior to questions from the audience.

Peter Tatchell 3min 58 sec

Peter reminds the audience that the bakers did not discriminate against the individual because he was gay. They had a conscientious objection to the message on the cake. Peter believes the appeal court ruling was a defeat for freedom of expression. His main argument is that discrimination against a person is not the same as discriminating against a political idea ie in a democratic society, the freedom to express an opinion also includes the right to not be compelled to support an opinion that you don't agree with.

Peter uses similar analogies to support his view. Would gay bakers be prosecuted if they refused to bake a cake with the slogan 'oppose gay marriage'? Would a Christian baker be forced, under the threat of legal action, to decorate a cake for a Muslim customer with the words "There is no God but Allah"? Should a Muslim printer be forced to print a cartoon depicting Allah? Should a Jewish printer be forced to print a book propagating holocaust denial? Peter also believes the enforcement of this ruling could potentially lead to the promotion of far-right views such as anti-immigration and Islamophobia (without the calling for violence).

Joshua Rozenberg 8min 41 sec

Joshua highlights that the issue centres around two minority groups (in the UK) and that the rights of both Christians and gay people should be respected. He supports the appeal court ruling stating that it is discriminating to only offer cakes with bespoke messages to certain groups. He also states that there is nothing on the cake which traces it back to the bakers so there is no suggestion that the bakers support the view on the cake. He believe the simple and right solution is for Asher's Bakery to stop offering cakes with bespoke slogans.

In response to Peter's analogies, Joshua points out that all these cases are subject to the law of the land ie religious or racial hatred is an offence. He also points out that the right to manifest your religion is also subject to law, particularly when it infringes on the rights of others. Joshua quotes the judge, who stated that baking a cake for a football team or Halloween does not indicate support for either.

Simon Calvert 13min 36sec

Simon believes the clash of freedom and equality to be a clash of world views ie they are not mutual. In relation to equality, he accuses the liberal elite of having beliefs which they consider to be unbiased and neutral whilst at the same time believing traditional, religious or challenging views to be biased and therefore less valuable. He argues that they use equality legislation to impose their set of beliefs on others which damages free speech and freedom of conscience.

He informs the audience that the McArther family deliberated for two days. Mrs McArthur telephoned the customer to explain their beliefs and he stated in court that he thanked her for her kindness. Simon then refers to a Com-Res Poll which showed two third of respondents felt the case should never have been taken to court with 90% stating that equality law should only be used to protect individuals, not politial ideas.

He supports Peter's view regarding the right not be compelled to agree with political ideas but he goes further by saying this also applies to following though ideas ie 'doing things'. Simon also believes that companies can accommodate individual beliefs whilst still providing good service. He gives examples such as the Islington Civil Partnership service where they accommodated and worked around a female registrar who did not want to be involved whilst at the same time providing a good service.

In relation to these cases he highlights that they were not underpinned by malicious intent. They were non-judgemental Christian people who went out of their way to explain their beliefs in friendly way. He also suggests that Christian families in these predicaments are well aware of the high cost their their decisions involve eg turning away trade, potential lawyer fees. He finishes by stating that equality law has very little accommodation for Christians which results in people with deeply-held, widely-shared, long-standing, mainstream beliefs being prosecuted.

edit on 9-1-2017 by Morrad because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 03:11 PM

Equality law was not handed down from heaven on tablets of stone. It was written by civil servants and politicians. Like many laws, mistakes can be made. These laws cause misery an injustice and through parliament these laws can be changed.
- Simon Calvert

From several members of the audience:

Don't we discriminate all the time, particularly on the basis of capability and inherent qualities? In relation to discrimination related to sex, race and disability and sexuality, we have overcome this due to a wide-held belief of universal humanity and the fact they are not causal in relation to any of our abilities. There is currently, a failure of an understanding of that belief on our universalism, the resurrection of ideas of difference, especially through the prism of identity politics. There is a complete failure in a clash of ideas and a look to the law and the state not only to arbitrate but to also gain affirmation on everything we do.

Religion is an ideology which is buttressed by a belief in a professed belief in the supernatural and I fail to understand why here or anywhere in the 21st century, we are privileging, protecting and giving dispensation to people because of that professed belief

Brendan O'Neill (one of my favourite online writers) was in the audience. this was his contribution:

I am worried about the way we use the word discrimination now and what we mean by it. There are lots of legal, moral and cultural meanings. In the social sense, it traditionally means that a specific group are severely disadvantaged and discriminated against which means their engagement in public life, work or society is restricted.

I feel the gay cake case does not tap into this type of description as the customer could have gone to numerous places to get his cake. I am wondering can society cope with the existence of a small number of religious or faith-based companies who simply don't want to serve some people and will say certain things on the basis of their conscience. Can anyone really argue that gay people don't have equality in Britain in the 21st century? The idea that they have been discriminated against just does not hold up.

It wasn't the fact that they were severely disadvantaged by one bakery, its rather that they were made to feel bad by it. I think a lot about equality laws now is protecting people's self-esteem rather than guaranteeing their right to engage in society. I think its a bad, terrible, awful idea to invite any wing of the state to intervene in the propping-up of people's self-esteem.

There is far more discussion in the session so I have attempted to touch on the most common views/points. For anyone that has a spare 70 minutes it well worth watching, in fact all three sessions are. I realise that in the US, freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. I am not sure if manifestation of religion is restricted as it is in the EU.

For me personally, I agree with Joshua Rozenberg. The McArthur family did discriminate in relation to bespoke message on cakes. With regard to the European Convention of Human Rights, they had no defence. Saying that I also agree with Brendan. In today's social climate, equality does seem to be all about self-esteem.

The highlight of the debate for me personally is when an audience member tried to argue the 'manifestation of religion' point, in relation to human rights, with Joshua Rozenberg. Joshua reached into his pocket, produced a copy of the European Convention of Human Rights, grinned at the questioner and said he never goes anywhere without it. Section 2, Article 9 of ECHR mirrored what Joshua had explained earlier.


edit on 9-1-2017 by Morrad because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 04:10 PM
It's funny how Bibletards and 'Murican conservitards just can't stop themselves from doubling down on inane "controversies" like this, like a bunch of ornery little chickens pecking at people's fingers.

I'm no supporter of ridiculous discrimination laws, but really. There are far better ways to defend your faith and oppose the gubment, why does it have to revolve around gay people's cakes and transgender bathrooms? Laughable. Come back to me when they start making real martyrs out of you. Where is Julian the Apostate when we need him?

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 04:50 PM
a reply to: Talorc

As the saying goes "Don't feed the troll" The SJWs are a bunch of annoying people at best.

I believe both the Bible Thumpers and the SJWs are wrong here for blowing insignificant things out of proportions.
edit on 1/9/2017 by starwarsisreal because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 06:19 PM
a reply to: Talorc

IT's far from laughable... The reason they use instances such as the ones you described is that those are the ones that are infringing on their rights.

If the government stated that a gay cake producer had to produce a cake that said, gays go to hell, I would just as vehemently defend their right to not be forced to bake said cake.

The point is not that Christians are being forced to go against their beliefs. The point is that government does not have the authority to force any business to provide a service they don't want to provide.


posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 06:19 PM
How about the other take. Designers won't dress our new First Lady. Where are the outraged SJWs? Sounds like discrimination. The new Justice Department might need to hound them out of business.

Although, she is rich enough to buy just about anything and rub their noses in it.

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 07:48 PM
a reply to: Morrad

Excellent post! Matter of fact I had given up on ATS for a while. This one brought me out of retirement.

I do not have the King Solomon answer for where individual freedom ends and equality begins. Not sure if one exists and it sure doesn't exist in my rambling here. I do believe the answer lies somewhere in the fact these two concepts, while used interchangeably many times, are very different.

While freedom seems pretty clear, equality is still up for debate in my mind. What exactly is equality? Equality of opportunity? Equality of outcome? Equality of ability? In my 50 years on this planet I have witnessed very little of that while I have witnessed the universal-ness of humanity as one responded. So...equality of being human? If humanity is inherent with diversity, who is holy enough to judge how we make different people the same?

With regards to the cake (how did a cake become the lightning rods in this debate? ):

...discrimination against a person is not the same as discriminating against a political idea ie in a democratic society, the freedom to express an opinion also includes the right to not be compelled to support an opinion that you don't agree with.

This seems open, human-centric, and inclusive even if it's not a full solution yet.


...the simple and right solution is for Asher's Bakery to stop offering cakes with bespoke slogans.

This seems authoritarian. If you won't make a cake with some writing on it for one based on a random quantification, you will not make it for anyone. The state will decide who has a right to whose labor. Yeah I know that sounds a lot like slavery but it's not because it's right and simple. Equality!

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 08:00 PM
a reply to: Morrad

I think a lot about equality laws now is protecting people's self-esteem rather than guaranteeing their right to engage in society. I think its a bad, terrible, awful idea to invite any wing of the state to intervene in the propping-up of people's self-esteem.

Quote is from your source.

This struck me as being the most salient point in your entire article, in my opinion.

Great thread!

posted on Jan, 9 2017 @ 09:04 PM
Its a sad situation when christians are all tarred with the same brush as few radical fundies
What bothers me most is there are some christians who side on this hate and some non christians complaining and not working through the problem

Bruxy Cavey, Canadian minister has an explanation of how christians should deal with this issue from a christian perspective.
Christians who dont know how torespond to homosexuality should watch this
Its about extending the hand of Christ and love, not antagonism and legalism

Its not about creating division, even in threads like this
Its about educating people

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 07:21 AM
You have the right to believe whatever you want.
I have the right to make fun of you for believing it.

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 07:29 AM
a reply to: Morrad

Peter Tatchell eloquently exposes the double standard in all the religious cases. While it's obvious for a majority of the world to see, somehow Liberals are blindfolded to their own hypocrisy of forcing everyone to do what they believe.

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 07:48 AM
a reply to: Morrad

What a great post and presentation... let folks from various perspectives discuss and debate and -- hopefully -- learn from each other.

I appreciate the guy who says it's really about self-esteem, and I agree that's a big part of it. But the problem is the use of force -- and the threat of total ruination -- to impose one's will on another. There are plenty of ways the laws and the free market could be used to promote and encourage and reward non-discrimination practices in business for the good of all, without forcing anyone to do anything. This approach is rejected again and again, even to the point that some folks will lament that others "have to be forced" to do something. And of course no one has to be forced to do anything.

There's a fine line between self-esteem and a power-driven ego.

I have family coming in this morning, but I hope I can find time to watch the entire presentation. Thank you for posting!!!

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 07:57 AM
Just go to a different bakery. No need to make a federal case out of it.

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 10:21 AM
a reply to: Morrad

The bottem line for me is, do I have to work for someone I do not like. No, I have the right to quit my job and find another. The reasons for this should not matter. Forcing some on to do work for someone they do not wish to do work fo is slavery.

posted on Jan, 10 2017 @ 02:27 PM
a reply to: ABNARTY

Thank you for your kind words.

If humanity is inherent with diversity, who is holy enough to judge how we make different people the same?

I agree. Diversity is a fact of life, not a value. I find it ironic that the current push for diversity precludes diversity of opinion. Rather than finding commonality and things that bind us together, we focus on our differences and make value judgements.

This seems authoritarian.

It is authoritarian. My agreement with Joshua Rozenberg is on a point of law. I did not make that clear in my OP.

a reply to: Boadicea

Thank you and I agree with your sentiments.

a reply to: DBCowboy

This struck me as being the most salient point in your entire article, in my opinion.

I often find myself in awe when reading Brendan's articles. He challenges my thinking. He has this gift of 'grounding' contemporary issues. The Guardian's news team hate him and have been quite vocal about it in the past.

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