Daily, the provocation grows more extreme, the oppression of Christian and secular traditional beliefs more intolerant and the imposition of the PC consensus more aggressive.
The latest attack by the state against freedom of conscience is the ruling in a Belfast court that Ashers Baking Company illegally discriminated against a homosexual activist by refusing to produce a cake carrying a slogan in support of same-sex marriage. The family that owns the business is devoutly Christian and producing such a cake would gravely have offended their conscience.
On the face of it, this looks like just another example of the British state persecuting Christianity in the same degree to which it favours Islam. But there are certain unique features of this case which make it a potential own goal for the forces of intolerance. This incident took place in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage is illegal. Less than a month ago the Northern Ireland parliament, for the fourth time, refused to legalise marriage between persons of the same sex.
So, the McArthurs, who own the bakery, have been found guilty by a court of illegal discrimination because they refused to produce a cake bearing a slogan promoting something that is itself illegal in Northern Ireland. For that matter, were those Northern Ireland Assembly members who voted against same-sex marriage not also guilty of discrimination? Is it only parliamentary privilege that is preventing the Northern Ireland Equality Commission from prosecuting the elected representatives of the people? The Commission has made no secret of its belief that a business such as Ashers should close down – which would destroy the jobs of 80 people.
A further consideration is that the customer who ordered the cake, Gareth Lee, belongs to the homosexual pressure group Queer Space which is conducting a political campaign. The issue of same-sex marriage is currently a live political debate in Northern Ireland. If people can be compelled by law to promote political slogans directly in conflict with their own beliefs, then to call the United Kingdom a pluralist democracy is a travesty.
This controversy, too, is taking place in Northern Ireland, where for decades – more accurately, centuries – conflicting versions of Christianity have contended for primacy. The Troubles are not long over, but Christianity still holds powerful sway in Northern Ireland. It is one of those clichés of historical experience – like the maxim that it is a bad career move to invade Russia (cf. Napoleon, Hitler) – that meddling aggressively in religious matters in Northern Ireland is unwise.
Not so long ago, Catholics and Protestants there were bombing and shooting one another; now both sides are being bullied and oppressed by militant secularism. To presume such aggression will not provoke a backlash smacks of bland complacency. The ruling, too, has far-reaching implications. The one being much touted in pub conversations and media commentary is the obvious question: could Muslim printing firms now be compelled by law to print caricatures of the prophet Mohammed?
The possible permutations of offence and coercion are infinite, because that is the kind of cock-eyed society the fanatics of the PC consensus have created. Yet there are signs oozing through cracks in the establishment’s Berlin Wall that suggest an uncharacteristic unease among the political class regarding this particular case. The locality and the multiple contradictions inherent in it have alerted the more intelligent among our rulers to the potential for a serious backlash and a very high egg-on-face quotient.
There are two obvious courses open to those appalled by this ruling. The first is for the McArthurs to appeal the decision, presumably with the backing of the Christian Institute which has supported them so far. The second is for Northern Ireland assembly members to reintroduce the proposed “conscience clause” Bill on equality legislation which was narrowly defeated some months ago. If that happens, Sinn Fein has promised to veto it, which casts an interesting light on its claim to speak for the Catholic community of Northern Ireland.
This case has significance in the rest of the UK as well. It is an iconic example of the growing persecution of the majority by minorities, with the encouragement and support of the state, which no longer represents the people of this country. In mainland Britain people have only themselves to blame. The same electorate that voted in three consecutive general elections to return Tony Blair to Downing Street has recently awarded the egregious Dave an overall majority.
But the same does not apply to the people of Northern Ireland. Across the sectarian divide they voted for traditional parties and values. Their representatives have, on their behalf, refused to legalise same-sex marriage. Yet the tentacles of the British state, via the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, have still reached out to persecute a Christian family for honouring its conscience and refusing to publicise a contentious political slogan advocating something that is against the law in Northern Ireland. We should be pressing adamantly for legislation to protect freedom of conscience in mainland Britain as well as in Northern Ireland.