Presbytery backs Ashers in legal row

Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Ballymena Presbytery have thrown their full weight behind the bakery firm at the centre of a gay controversy.

The body, which represents more than 20,000 people of all ages in the Mid-Antrim area, has accused the Equality Commission of ‘unethical and improper’ use of puhblic money in their pursuits of Asher’s Bakery company and its owners, the McArthur family. Ashers refused to take an order for a gay wedding cake earlier this year and legal action ensued supported by the Equality Commission.

The Presbytery believes the commission’s stance is ‘spiritually, morally and politically unacceptable’and has urged the body to disassociate itself from the case.

The statement in full reads:

“The Presbytery of Ballymena, which represents over 20,000 people of all ages, strongly affirms the profound and inherent dignity of every human individual. It is our deeply held conviction that all people are uniquely created as equals by a loving heavenly Father with dignity, value, purpose and destiny according to the teaching of the early chapters of Genesis in particular and the Bible as a whole.

“It follows therefore, that equality is not something which is conferred on individuals by legislation, but is how we are born as those created in the image of God. This innate equality is protected at law in terms of the fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought for everyone and it seems only proper to us that the expression of those rights in the public square should not be unreasonably curtailed. All of us already accommodate diversity of views on a common sense basis of mutual respect but we as a Presbytery feel very strongly that this is now under serious threat.

“The Presbytery of Ballymena believes it is spiritually, morally and politically unacceptable, therefore, for the Equality Commission to support a legal case against Ashers Baking Company claiming that they may be guilty of religious, political and sexual discrimination. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland and other Churches have already expressed grave concerns regarding this extremely worrying course of action and as a Presbytery we endorse these concerns. In our opinion it is deplorable that the Equality Commission should fund litigation using the substantial resources of the public purse, against a small family owned business which is not supported by any public funding. Indeed it is our view that this is both highly improper and arguably unethical. Furthermore, we find it increasingly difficult to understand how the pursuit of this imbalanced and speculative case can be claimed to be serving the public interest given the financial burden it places both on the Ashers Baking Company, and the Public Purse. We strongly object to tax-payer’s money being squandered in such an extravagant and intolerant course of action.

“The Presbytery of Ballymena also regard it as appalling that the McArthur family should be subjected to the inordinate levels of stress and aggravation caused by this impending court action. On the other hand we are very encouraged by the recent YouGov poll, reported in the press on Tuesday 11th November 2014, which concludes that public opinion is standing firmly with the family.

“The Presbytery of Ballymena therefore calls on the Equality Commission in the strongest possible terms to overturn its flawed decision to support a legal case against Ashers Bakery Company. The Presbytery also calls on the Equality Commission to uphold human dignity by protecting the fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought and the reasonable expression of such rights in the public sphere.”