Ashers ‘gay cake’ judgement is crucial for Judaism as well

A young Jewish man in a synagogue
A young Jewish man in a synagogue

Last month Jews throughout the UK marked the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur – a fast of some 25 hours observed by the orthodox and even the not-so-orthodox.

On that day, in synagogues throughout the land, there was – as there always has been and always will be – a reading of Leviticus 18, which enumerates prohibitions against certain sexual relationships, including of course male homosexual acts.

Prof Geoffrey Alderman

Prof Geoffrey Alderman

The prohibitions are read aloud on that Day because more people are in synagogue on Yom Kippur than at any other time of the year. The message therefore reaches the widest possible audience.

In the orthodox Jewish world these prohibitions are regarded as divinely mandated.

Be that as it may, British Jews are having to face the prospect that the freedom to read Leviticus 18 and to pass on its message from one generation to the next is under threat and might conceivably become a criminal offence.

The recent Supreme Court judgment in the Ashers Bakery case must therefore be regarded as a very welcome beacon of hope.

To understand why reading and teaching Leviticus 18 are under threat I need to explain that for several years Jewish faith schools in England – both state-aided and private – have been embroiled in a war of attrition mounted by the Department for Education and its policing arm, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), obsessively supported by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lobby.

Under the guise of enforcing the teaching of ‘British values,’ and in the name of Equality, Ofsted inspectors have busied themselves inspecting Jewish schools and failing those that decline, amongst other things, to teach their pupils that a homosexual lifestyle is as legitimate as a heterosexual one.

The situation facing Jewish schools, Jewish pupils, and Jewish parents is such that on October 12, six of the country’s leading rabbinical authorities issued an unprecedented public statement declaring “unequivocally that any intimate physical relationship other than that between a married male and female, is totally, strictly and absolutely forbidden according to Jewish Law”.

I accept at once that persons of LGBT proclivity must be treated with the utmost compassion and sensitivity. I also accept that what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms is basically none of my business.

That does not mean that I have also to approve of such conduct or to accept that such conduct is somehow ‘valid’.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Ashers case lays down a crucial distinction

between the general duty incumbent on us all not to discriminate and the protection that must be afforded to religious beliefs.

In a liberal democracy the right to live one’s life in accordance with deeply held, non-violent beliefs needs to be protected – whether or not you or I happen to agree with them.

That is the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision.

And that is its reassuring message for all persons of faith in the UK.

• Geoffrey Alderman studied history at Oxford. He is professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of Buckingham. He has written about the history of British Jews, and contributed extensively to the Jewish Chronicle, The Spectator, and more.