Sammy Wilson: Equality Commission a 21st century Nero for persecuting Ashers Bakery

Ashers Bakery refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage message. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Ashers Bakery refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage message. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

It seems that the first response of many politicians when faced with a new issue or problem is to call for the setting up of a commission.

Northern Ireland is full of them, most set up since the Belfast Agreement. Apart from the fact that they are expensive (the average cost is between £8m and £10m), my real problem with them is that they add to state intervention and tend to attract those left-wing liberals who see themselves as pillars of tolerance, but many are some of the most intolerant individuals one could encounter.

In fact, I used to joke that the Alliance Party had its own version of the TV show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” – it was called “Who Wants To Be A Quango Chair”, because it seemed that the favourites of the public appointments body were the well-heeled, well-connected, golf club-types from Cultra who populated the ranks of the Alliance Party, and of course they were nice middle-class, tolerant types!

One only has to look at the decisions of the Parades Commission, whose chairman up until this year was a former Alliance councillor, and the amazing decision by the Equality Commission to prosecute the Christian owners of Ashers Bakery to see how tolerant these organisations are.

The Parades Commission has consistently rewarded violent republican protestors whilst banning peaceful Orange parades.

When republicans threatened violence as they did in north Belfast, if the Parades Commission did not do their bidding, it didn’t take much persuasion for the Parades Commission to fall back to its default position, which is “if in doubt ban the Prods!”.

The organisation which ordered the cake has denied that this was a set up of Ashers Bakery, a Christian-owned business. But even so, the Equality Commission’s willingness to race to the aid of this homosexual group speaks volumes about the inbuilt bias of this body.

This will be the eighteenth sexual orientation case the Equality Commission has taken up since 2008 but, despite increasing discrimination against Christians in the workplace and elsewhere, it has yet to take up cudgels on behalf of Christians.

Now the Equality Commission has decided that its role goes further than representing people who feel discriminated against. It has now become the blunt instrument of the thought police, bludgeoning into submission those who dare to deviate from the politically correct speech and behaviour demanded by the intolerant liberal elite who seem to hate everything that Christians stand for.

This might seem very strong language but believe me the fanatical liberals in our society can be vicious when crossed. Even I was surprised by some of the letters I received after using this column to defend the rights of Christians to speak out on political and moral issues such as worldwide religious persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, and the abortion and gay marriage issues in Northern Ireland.

One constituent from Whitehead described me as a “loathsome little redneck” for daring to hold such views. Neither he nor others were keen to be quoted publicly, presumably because they like to maintain the public façade of being nice, fair-minded and liberal while harbouring a bilious bigotry that would make a “redneck” blush.

This intolerance now finds its expression in bodies set up by government, peopled by left-leaning liberals who will take up the politically correct causes on behalf of their favoured minority groupings.

Let us be in no doubt about what the intention of the Equality Commission in this case is. It is determined to make the owners of this Christian-owned business conform to its view of life.

In Roman times Nero threw Christians who would not conform into the Colosseum to be eaten by the lions. The modern-day Neros want to throw them into the courts, to be savaged by the lawyers.

Let us be clear about the case which is now threatened against Ashers Bakery. It is not that they refused to sell goods to a gay couple, merely that they refused to promote a message advocating gay marriage.

The question that needs to be asked is whether the Equality Commission would have been as quick to jump to the defence of the British National Party if a printer from an ethnic minority group had refused to print literature he regarded as racist. I doubt it and I wouldn’t expect them to either.

There are three responses which I can think of in relation to this case. First of all, the £10m budget of the Equality Commission must be looked at. During times of austerity, when schools and hospitals are in dire need of money, can we afford a body which thinks that it is OK to use thousands of pounds to prosecute a Christian business, even if that means putting scores of jobs at risk?

Secondly, we need a conscience clause which exempts individuals from laws which interfere with their beliefs. Thirdly, the public should rally round the business.

I enjoy frequent Ulster fries in their cafes. Their Madeira cakes with orange icing are a delight. Their pies are succulent. Their scones are soft and fruity, and I could go on.

The Health Minister, who continually goes on to me about healthy eating, might recommend moderation in purchases, but I am sure that he would agree with me that the best way of the public showing their contempt for the Equality Commission persecution of this business is to support Ashers with their custom.