A Belfast hotel has issued a formal apology after forcing a pastor to close down a public meeting which was being held in support of traditional marriage.
Revd Harry Coulter of Carrickfergus Reformed Presbyterian Church filed legal proceedings against the owners of the Balmoral Hotel in Dunmurry for breaking their services contract after the venue forced 50 people to abandon their pro-marriage meeting, allegedly on account of some guests being offended by the gathering.
Coulter said he had been “humiliated” by the whole situation, but that he “wholeheartedly accepts” the hotel's written apology, which formed part of the legal settlement. It was also agreed that the venue would refund the £100 cost of the booking, and pay legal costs. The legal case was supported by faith-based lobby group, The Christian Institute.
In their formal letter of apology, the hotel said: wrong
“On behalf of the owners, management and staff of The Balmoral Hotel, I write to express our sincere regret at the level of service you received at your function held in our Grand Ballroom on 9th October 2019.
"As a hotel, we have always sought to serve people without discriminating on the grounds of religion, belief or political opinion.
"We are therefore disappointed that on the night in question we fell short of that standard. As a result, you and your guests were prevented from fully expressing and discussing your beliefs about the law of marriage in Northern Ireland as part of your ‘Marriage Matters’ series. We recognise that the ability to respectfully debate issues on which we hold strong views is fundamental to freedom of speech for all of us.
"We also recognize that the particular way in which this was dealt with was embarrassing for you and inconvenient for your guests. I reassure you that this will never happen again.”
The hotel also vowed to retrain its staff in order to avoid a repeat of the incident.
Revd Coulter commented:
“I am very satisfied with the way the Balmoral Hotel has now responded to my concerns. They have issued a full apology which I wholeheartedly accept. They have made clear that the way we were treated that night was not up to their own standards and have accepted that it caused embarrassment and pledged that it will never happen again.
“They have also committed to retraining their staff to respect human rights, and endorsed the importance of free speech and respectful debate.
“They have agreed to refund our money and to pay legal costs. They have done right by us in the end and we appreciate it. In light of all this, I would be happy to book the Balmoral Hotel for future events.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank The Christian Institute for their support, and to encourage Christians who face similar challenges to their religious liberty to contact them for help.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute said:
“We’re delighted for Revd Coulter that this brings a satisfactory resolution to an unpleasant situation. This is an important reminder that you cannot kick people out of a hotel for supporting traditional marriage. We’re confident that, had this case gone to court, Revd Coulter would have won his claim for discrimination. The hotel clearly understood this, and their apology is full and frank and they deserve credit for it.
“In the current climate of hypersensitivity over people’s opinions, the successful outcome, in this case, is a welcome restatement of the high value of freedom of belief and freedom of expression for all. It’s also a reminder to Christians of the importance of taking a stand and we are thankful to God for another victory to add to The Christian Institute’s long track record of successful cases.
“Mr Coulter’s meeting was a thoughtful discussion about marriage. The law firmly protects the ability to have those discussions and we need to have more of them, conducted with the kind of courtesy which Revd Coulter exemplifies.”