A sizeable majority of people in Northern Ireland believe the Equality Commission (ECNI) is wrong to prosecute a Christian-owned bakery over what has become known as the ‘gay cake’ row.
The ComRes poll measured opinion among 1,000 adults in Northern Ireland. It showed that only 27 per cent of adults in the Province believe it is right for the ECNI to take Ashers Baking Company to court, while 71 per cent disagree.
The survey was carried out on behalf of the Christian Institute which is backing Ashers bakery in a court action being heard in Belfast later this week.
Ninety per cent of those polled also believe equality laws should not be used to force people to say something they oppose.
Ashers was threatened with legal action last July after refusing to bake a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’ - and notified of the ECNI decision to prosecute in November after the bakery’s general manager Daniel McArthur confirmed there would be no reversal of the original decision.
Mr McArthur has repeatedly stated that the cake order was declined because it promoted same-sex marriage and not because the customer was gay.
He also said the order would have been refused regardless of the customer’s sexuality, simply because the slogan clashed with the owner’s deeply held religious convictions.
In the past, Ashers has declined orders for cake designs incorporating nudity or foul language.
The new survey, examining attitudes towards free speech, showed that 79 per cent believe a Muslim printer should not be prosecuted for refusing to print cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, eight in 10 (82 per cent) believe an atheist web designer should not be forced by the courts to design a website promoting the view that God made the world in six days, and almost three-quarters (74 per cent) believe a printing company run by Roman Catholics should not be forced to produce adverts calling for the legalisation of abortion.
A recent UK-wide poll revealed 60 per cent of British adults think the publicly-funded ECNI court action against Ashers court action is “disproportionately heavy-handed”.
Christian Institute director Colin Hart has welcomed the results of the survey.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Mr Hart added.
Daniel McArthur or Ashers bakery said the survey backed up the “wide-ranging support” they had received over the past nine months.
“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.”
ComRes pollster Andrew Hawkins said: “When asked to choose between freedom of speech or protection from being offended, by a ratio of around three to one people said that freedom of speech trumps the right not to be offended.”
Analysing the results, Mr Hawkins added: “It flows from this, therefore, that almost the same proportion believe that equality laws ‘should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose’.”