Ashers verdict: ‘Equality laws need to change before more damage is done’

Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton said the verdict has far-reaching implications for businesses
Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton said the verdict has far-reaching implications for businesses

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has said judgment on the Ashers case will have major repercussions for business owners in Northern Ireland.

Convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Council for Public Affairs, Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, hit out at Monday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal in Belfast and said he was “deeply concerned”.

He added: “(This) judgment will have far-reaching implications for all business owners by confirming that they cannot in conscience refuse to be involved in the promotion of particular causes or messages that run contrary to their beliefs – religious or otherwise.”

A spokesperson for the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland claimed “the right to freedom of exercise of Christian conscience in business has not been upheld”.

“The Christian community should be prepared to persevere in defending the Christian faith against these attacks and supporting those who find themselves at the centre of these controversies when they are for the cause of Christ,” the spokesperson added.

The Christian Institute, which backed the McArthur’s case, claimed equality laws have been turned into an “oppressive weapon used to curb dissent”.

The institute’s deputy director for public affairs, Simon Calvert, said: “Equality laws are there to protect people from discrimination, not to force people to associate themselves with a cause they oppose.

“But those same laws have become a weapon in the hands of those who want to oppress anyone who dissents from the politically correct norms of the moment. The law needs to change before more damage is done.”

Peter Lynas, former barrister and director of the Evangelical Alliance NI said: “This is a sad day for the family and for freedom of conscience and religion.

“Ashers have lost the case, but even more importantly we have all lost some our freedom. Forcing someone to promote a view that they fundamentally disagree with is the antithesis of a free and fair society.

“We will have to wait and see if there will be further appeals to the Supreme Court. We will also have to review whether the current law is fit for purpose given how it has been interpreted.”