Freedom – to Discriminate?

You might want to read these articles if you want to get a good primer for this – once again, we’re talking about bakers, gay marriage, and where the line is between private rights and professional duty.

This is a recurring theme that in my view is actually very simple – a business that is open to the public and operates in the public domain should be held to the same rules as every other such business – a shop is not a private institution; it has made a commitment to follow certain rules, and in refusing customers on the grounds of sexual orientation, it is failing to abide by those rules. That’s pretty straightforward in my book.

This time, the case in question comes from Northern Ireland, a country known for religious and political turmoil, with the two factors very much entwined. Back in 2014 a bakery refused to make a cake for a gay rights activist, on the grounds of religious freedom. Earlier this year a hearing ruled that the bakery was a ‘business for profit’, not a religious group, and therefore not subject to exemption from business law and rules. In my view, this is entirely correct, yet not unsurprisingly, there has been a furore over this.

In my discussion with Paul on Blogging Theology, the question came up (and I have since seen this question repeated elsewhere) over freedom of expression and whether we would expect a Jewish bakery to make a cake with Nazi symbols – but this is a false dilemma. Supporting gay rights is in no way shape or form the same as supporting an ideology that was based entirely on hate and discrimination, and to suggest the two scenarios are similar is a false narrative.  Expecting a business to fulfil its obligations under law is not the same as expecting a private institution (or individual) to abandon their belief system. The bottom line is, when you open a business that will deal with the public, you don’t get to pick and choose who you serve. That opens the door to all kinds of arbitrary approaches. ‘I don’t like people who wear glasses so I won’t serve them’. It opens the floodgates to all sorts of unpleasantness.

Another unsurprising argument is the position that fining the bakery in this instance is part of a clampdown on religious expression and freedoms. Never mind that homosexuals still face routine discrimination, even in developed countries. Never mind that no one is forcing religious institutions to take part in same-sex weddings. I have to wonder, what freedoms have been curtailed?


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