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71% disagree with action against bakers who refused gay cake

by Antony Bushfield

A new poll for the Christian Institute has found 71% of people don't think it's right the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland is taking Ashers Baking Company to court.

The ECNI claims the bakers broke equality rules when it refused an order for a cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with the message, 'Support Gay Marriage'.

Ashers refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the religious beliefs of the Christian owners.

The case is due before Belfast County Court later this week.

Days before being heard by a judge, the survey of 1,000 people by ComRes found only 27% thought it was right the case was being brought.

The study also found that 77% of people thought public money should not be being used to proceed with the case.

9 in 10 respondents agree that equality laws should be used only to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose.

Welcoming the poll, the Christian Institute Director Colin Hart said: "This poll shows that people of all faiths and none in Northern Ireland want to live in a tolerant society where the right to freedom of speech, thought and expression are protected.

"In bringing the case against Ashers bakery the ECNI is trying to deny people these fundamental rights. It is clear however from the research that the ECNI is out of touch with Northern Ireland society and has got this one wrong.

"It has been clear since the outset that public opinion is with Ashers. Yet, the ECNI persists and is spending vast amounts of taxpayers' cash on this poorly thought-out and ill-conceived action.

"The ECNI clearly want to have their day in court but they have already lost in the court of public opinion. The poll shows that."

General Manager of the bakers, Daniel McArthur said: "We have had wide-ranging support from across Northern Ireland over the last nine months and this is backed up in this survey.

"Whether people agree with our beliefs or not, we are delighted that they respect our right to express those beliefs and that's what tolerance is all about."

Pollster Andrew Hawkins of ComRes said the results indicated that only "around one in four think the Equality Commission right to prosecute".

He said: "Overall public sentiment in Northern Ireland appears to be robustly behind the rights of businesses to protect their own freedom of speech and religious liberty. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the overall mood of the majority of the public in Northern Ireland is against the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland taking Ashers bakery to court."

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland said: "The Commission is supporting an individual taking a case before the County Court alleging discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes, the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (NI) 1998.

"This case raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion.

"The Commission's policy is not to discuss details about any case we are supporting once proceedings have been issued.

"This is a matter for the Court to deal with now and we do not wish to prejudice the Court's consideration of the issues or the outcome of its consideration by debating the details of the case in public."

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