Former Primate signs letter on legacy issues
Lord Eames, former Archbishop of Armagh, has put his name to a letter to the Secretary of State. He was co-chair of the Consultative Group on the Past. The letter is in response to government proposals to deal with the legacy of the past.
He joined four former Secretaries of State and other peers to suggest that support for victims should be prioritised over funding any further historical investigations. The letter was published on 10th October.
Gareth Lee was the customer who ordered the cake, iced with the message ‘Support gay marriage’. He ordered it from Ashers bakery, a Belfast-based business run by the MacArthur family. Shortly after the order was placed, the company contacted Lee to decline his order.
Mr Lee went to the Equality Commission who supported his claim alleging discrimination. At the beginning of the legal action he said the bakery’s actions left him feeling like “a lesser person.” Ashers contended that they were happy to sell Gareth Lee a cake, but not to promote a view that was “inconsistent” with their firmly held religious beliefs. They suggested their issue was not with the customer, but with the slogan. The bakery was supported by the Christian Institute.
After a four-year legal process, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that the refusal of the bakery to supply the cake was not discriminatory. Lady Hale, president of the court, announced the decision. She said: “It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief. But that is not what happened in this case.”
She continued: “As to Mr Lee’s claim based on sexual discrimination, the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation. They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”
The court ruled that Mr Lee had no claim against Ashers on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. Lady Hale said: “The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.” She added: “This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination.”
Two sides diametrically opposed on the issue of same- sex marriage surprisingly support a common argument. Peter Lynas, NI director of Evangelical Alliance, said: “Ashers discriminated against an idea, not a person. While the law rightly prohibits the latter, the former is not only allowed, but encouraged in a healthy democratic society. Many people do not 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.” He continued: “This case is not
about special protection for Christians. The mark of a free and democratic society is that competing views are discussed and debated. Forcing someone to promote a view that they fundamentally disagree with is the antithesis of a free and fair society.”
Well-known gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, said: “This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans. Businesses can now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to emblazon a political message if they have a conscientious objection to it. This includes the right to refuse messages that are sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay, which is a good thing.
“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose … Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage’.
“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas that they disagree with. I am glad the court upheld this important liberal principle.
“If the original judgement against Ashers had been upheld, it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could have also encouraged far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.”
A statement from Bishop Kenneth Kearon, as chair of the Church and Society Commission, says: “We welcome the affirmation of religious freedom and expression in this particular case. This is a complex issue which does involve the balancing of rights. The decision by the Supreme Court in this case affirms the rights of the business and does not significantly impact on the freedom of choice for the customer.”
This has been a costly legal saga, not only financially but emotionally, for all concerned. The debate became about something else, as well as the presenting issue. It was about freedom of ideas, opinions and expression.
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YOUR FRONT page, and following editorial in the Gazette of 5th October, gives prominence to the publication of the UK’s annual British Social Attitudes Survey, in particular highlighting the doleful results of young people’s attendance in the Church of England. I am not sure that this is helpful to the Church of Ireland.
Firstly, in England (and Scotland and Wales), religion is no longer regarded as a marker of political identity, as it so often still is in Northern Ireland. Nor indeed in the Republic of Ireland either, as we witness an ongoing process of unpicking of religious (Christian) influences from the Constitution, of which the forthcoming Referendum on removing blasphemy as a criminal offence is the latest example.
On the other hand, in Northern Ireland just recently there were media reports about PSNI anxiety concerning the proportional imbalance of Protestant and Roman Catholic members, and nothing else could display more clearly that political identity and religion continue to feed off each other. (This is not meant to be a hostile comment, merely to observe that that is the ‘state of play’ now, as Northern Ireland progresses towards becoming an egalitarian society in which all its citizens are treated with equality, regardless of race, colour, religion, and most particularly sexual orientation).
Politically Northern Ireland may be part of the UK, but its citizens who count themselves Anglican are served by the Church of Ireland, which of course serves the whole island, and whose Prayer Book reflects this reality in a careful and gracious way. The rest of the UK is served by three Anglican provinces – the Episcopal Church in Scotland, the Church in Wales, and, of course, the Church of England.
Bearing in mind our shared Celtic heritage, I suggest that closer exploration of experiences and ideas with the Anglican communities in Scotland and Wales might be more fruitful when considering answers to the two questions you ask in your editorial – ‘Why is this happening?’ and ‘What will we do about it?’
Your final question in your editorial asks, “Has the Church of Ireland the structures or investment in place to ask these questions in a coherent way?” I would respond by asking whether this is the correct question. Instead, we might reflect on the question originally asked by professor Walter Wink, some 45 years ago, in his book, The Bible in Human Transformation: “Are the churches now problematic as the locus of Christian community?”
Marie Rowley-Brooke (Canon) Nenagh Co Tipperary
Gazette – new format
I HAVE been a regular reader of the much-valued weekly The Church of Ireland Gazette for many years, commencing around 1969 when I started getting it by post as a theology student at Oak Hill College in London.
This has continued without a break right up to the present day. In our house, the weekly arrival of the Gazette by post was a sort of highlight in itself. On Thursday morning, my wife would say “We will get the Gazette today … I wonder will there be any new appointments?” Consequently, she would always then turn to the back page of the Gazette first, to read this section before anything else.
Imagine then our shock and sadness to read the front page of the Gazette, for the week dated Friday 28th September, about it changing from weekly to monthly from January 2019. Such was my disbelief that I rang the Gazette office to verify that this change was in fact happening!
I have no doubt that those in authority will have their own good reasons for this change. But I felt it necessary to put pen to paper to express what a weekly Church newspaper has meant to me and my wife all down the years.
Each week we looked forward to the variety of articles, such as the editorial, the letters page, the advertising of vacant parishes, the ‘What’s on’ column, the many photos (in colour!), the weekly columnists, home news, world news and, of course, the appointments!
For us at least, it will not ever again be the same monthly, but we wish all at the Gazette office well as we follow Jesus who is our constant, unchangeable and faithful friend through all change.
Albert Kingston (Canon) Ballymahon
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