The Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland has just lost their appeal for the heinous crime of refusing to write a slogan on a cake. The phrase “you couldn’t make it up” is of course long past its sell by date. You couldn’t have made it up 20 years ago (or even ten), but now you can make almost anything up and it will have a good chance of coming true about this time tomorrow.

If the McArthurs are weeping, then I will gladly weep with them (Romans 12:15). However, I rather hope that they are rejoicing, knowing that their reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:12). They should know that their calm, reasoned and dignified stance has been an inspiration to many.

But what of the case itself? It basically centred on whether the McArthurs had or hadn’t discriminated against Gareth Lee, with the judges deciding they had, both in the original ruling, and the appeal. And so in a ruling of high irony, albeit irony that they are blind to, believing that they were striking a blow for tolerance’n’diversity they discriminated against the McArthurs’ by compelling them to write things they object to. 

Zooming back from the rulings, however, we see that the case wasn’t really about whether discrimination had taken place. Rather it was about which type of discrimination is allowable. Not whether but which.

This is easily provable. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A far-right nationalist walks into a bakery and asks them to bake a cake with a swastika or wolfsangel symbol. Does the baker have the right to refuse their request?
  • A campaigner for incestuous marriage walks into a bakery and asks them to bake a cake with a “We support sibling marriage” slogan. Does the baker have the right to refuse their request? 
  • An Islamic fundamentalist walks into a bakery and asks for a cake to be baked with a “pro-Islamic State” slogan. Does the baker have the right to refuse their request?
  • A Christian walks into a bakery run by a homosexual couple and asks them to bake a cake with the words “Same-sex marriage isn’t real marriage” on it. Does the baker have the right to refuse their request?

I put that last one in there to confuse anybody who was about to say, as people do, “Are you equating homosexuality with Nazism, incest and ISIS?” No, don’t miss the point. It’s about the right not to be compelled by law to do something with which you profoundly disagree.

In case you didn’t get it, the answer to all four scenarios was “yes, of course they have the right to refuse”. But that would be discrimination, wouldn’t it? That’s right, and I’m guessing that 99% of people, plus the law, would say that the bakers in each case have every right to refuse the request.

However, the logic of the Asher’s ruling is that the bakers don’t have that right, and they must do what the Nazi, the incest campaigner, the Takfiri, and the Christian tell them to do. Of course we all know that the law would never rule against the bakers in these cases, but this precisely goes to demonstrate that the Ashers case was never about whether discrimination is allowable. If it was, the justices’ rulings would mean that you could go into any bakers you liked, demand that they make a cake with any slogan of your choosing on top, no matter how odious or offensive to the baker, and the baker would have to do what they are told or else.

You could test it if you like. Go into a bakers and ask them to bake a cake with a biblical text about homosexuality on it. No point of course, partly because the thought of eating a cake with Romans 1:26-27 on is not exactly appetising, but also because we already know the answer. It would sort of expose that H word, though, wouldn’t it? The one starting with Hyp, that is.

Actually, if I really felt like going into a bakery to ask for a cake stating, say, “Jesus is Lord” on it, and the baker told me he couldn’t do it because he is an atheist, do you know what my reaction would be? Safe space!? Hissy fit!? I’ll see you in court!? No, I’d say something like, “okay, no problem” and go to see if another baker would do it for me. And if I couldn’t find one, I’d either bake it myself, or forget about it. But I sure wouldn’t take offence, go out the shop “feeling like a lesser person”, or set the law on them. I would think it their right to say no to my request and that I was being an insufferable little despot if I insisted on it. Taking them to court over it would reflect more on my intolerance than on theirs, would it not?

Yet this isn’t about hurt feelings or tolerance etc etc. It is instead about the “Totalitopians” (Totalitarian Utopians) insisting that we bow down to their agenda. It is about them showing who is in charge. It is about them deciding not whether discrimination is allowed, but which type of discrimination is allowed. Of course they’ll continue doing so under the banner of fighting discrimination. But now that the Little Sheep Tolerance’n’Diversity Hath Shed its Wool and Bared its Ghastly Teeth, only the naivest of people would buy that.

12 thoughts on “The Ashers Bakery Case: The Little Sheep Tolerance’n’Diversity Hath Shed its Wool and Bared its Ghastly Teeth

  1. Just read some of the comments – interesting points. I actually know a couple of people all from the same family who are against interracial marriage for religious reasons. Not bakers, but they do event planning for groups like if companies want a corporate outing or baby showers. Also have done a few wedding receptions I think. Agree with the poster who said if christian bakers can decline gay couples then this family ought to be able to decline serving cross-racial couples or families for religious reasons too. They’re not racist.. they have many friends from other races just dont think its right for bloods to mingle. never understood it.

    Dont really understand also why christians are forever singling out lgbts. Dont straight people have even more sexual sins? Go decline cakes to straight sinners too lol. Wasn’t the mother of Christianity a sinner too? Most likely she cheated on Joseph with another man and was too afraid to tell Joseph so invented the story of a virgin birth.

  2. I bought a birthday cake for my eleven year old son yesterday. It never occurred to me that the baker was “celebrating” or “endorsing” my son’s birthday, and I would be surprised if the baker insisted that by baking the cake he was participating in it. Seems to me these Christians are just being incredibly silly – do they really think they’ve participated in the birthday celebrations of all the thousands and thousands of birthday cakes they’ve undoubtedly baked over the years?

  3. Just one more point I forgot to mention, since you seem skeptical about gay “marriages” (quotation marks yours, not mine)

    Consider this. Personally, I have a huge problem with Christian marriages. I find it distressing personally that kids will be brought up in families where they are taught that people can rise up from the dead, that wine can magically turn into blood, and that demons and devils truly, actually exist. This is morally repugnant to me, and it makes me wonder if perhaps Christians in general do suffer from mental problems or a lower IQ.

    The difference between you and me, is that I agree that in a pluralistic society with diverse beliefs and values, there is no reason that I should impose my definition of what counts as a healthy normal family on backward Christians. Hard as it is for me (everytime I see a Christian kid, I feel a strong sense of pity), I agree Christians ought to get “married”. They are free to make their own mistakes in a pluralistic and diverse society. I wish less Christians got married and procreated, but it’s their right to do so.

    Whereas Rob, who claims to respect tolerance and diversity, believe Christians own the word “marriage” and that gay couples must not be allowed to marry. We don’t live in a theocracy – I think it’s time Christians got over themselves and thought of themselves as one group amongst many.

    1. Wow Oliver. You have been busy. You make a lot of points, plus put a lot of arguments in my mouth which I haven’t said and which I don’t believe.

      I want to be fair to you and respond in a reasonable amount of detail, but it is Sunday today, and I’m on holiday this week. Please bear with me for a few days, and then I’ll get to you as soon as I can.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  4. 3. And now for my last point, which has absolutely nothing to do with Ashers or gay wedding cakes. This is more of a general comment about what I think is really happening with Christian “conservatives” and why we are getting a preponderance of posts like these that are utterly misinformed when it comes to the law.

    Christianity is on the decline. Most people simply do not accept Christian sexual ethics as a morally good way to live their lives, and in the process, the type of instinctive respect according to Christians and Christian cultural figureheads over the centuries has disappeared. Conservatives look on this decline with alarm and predict apocalypse, primarily because they are unaccustomed to the loss of social and cultural power. And yet the channeling of this anxiety of influence into edge-cases like “Do Christians have the right to reject cakes with political slogans?” is utterly misplaced. What has fundamentally changed is that people don’t have a problem with homosexuality in particular, and don’t subscribe to Christian ethics in general. And why should they? Why should Christians hold a special claim to morality in comparison to Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, etc.?

    Consider the hypocrisy in your own communities too. Ashers was happy to bake Halloween cakes (Dear Rob, do you think they endorsed witchcraft? Or pagan festivals? Isn’t there actually a commandment against idolatry and graven images?)

    Anyway, seeing this is my last point, I want to clarify something. I have nothing against Christian conservatives in a pluralistic society. I do have a problem with another blog repeating conservative talking-points without bothering to think more deeply into the arguments or understand the jurisprudence behind the case. Here’s a recommendation: Read Christian Legal Society v. Martinez for a complicated, non-black-and-white treatment of public accommodations laws. Read Loving v. Virginia to get a sense of what equal protection means.

  5. 2. Since I’ve answered your hypothetical (Yes, under the same principles, gay wedding bakers cannot enter in the wedding business serving cakes only to gay couples, but not straight ones), why not you have a go at one of mine too? A conservative Christian who’s a real estate agent realizes halfway through the house-hunting process the couple she’s serving is gay and looking for a home. She believes she will be facilitating their sin (well, lots and lots of glorious gay sex is going to happen in that house, for sure!), and she would like to decline providing that service to them – can she do that?

    If you think Christian real estate agents can decline to serve gay clients and Christian hotel owners can decline to rent rooms to gay tourists, what types of arguments are you using? Is it the same association claims you so idolize as with Ashers? Do you think providing services implicates forced messaging and thereby freedom of expression? Or would you distinguish these cases and say: No, they can’t do that, but wedding cake providers can – if so, how would you distinguish the cases in principle and legally?

    Let me turn the case inside out and ask you this: Do Christians win in every case involving public accommodations conflicts? Can you think of any cases in which Christians ought not to win? Your answer to this will go very far to how seriously people take your arguments, I think.

  6. The type of black-and-white thinking you display where only one group are lovers of liberty and the other are “statists” is typical of conservative rhetoric in general. This is the type of framework that fails to see that there are competing goods and conflicting liberties at stake, that a balancing test ought to be applied, and that is exactly what happened here. I hope you are able to further develop your thoughts intellectually, even if it is along a conservative line of thought, without repeating the claptrap repeated by those who erroneously think this is a gay rights vs. religious liberty case.

    1. Your beef is really with anti-discrimination and public accommodations law in general, and not with gay wedding cakes in particular. That’s a perfectly consistent position to take, and it has nothing to do with gay wedding cakes or cakes with slogans on them. If a white baker refuses to sell wedding cakes to interracial couples, you’d be fine with it. You might disagree with their position, but you would defend the liberty of the white baker to decline to sell a wedding cake to an interracial couple. This is case in which societies choose to maximize association claims and to de-emphasize public accommodations claims.

    Societies can also choose to strike different balances. In the U.S., people decided that the collective costs of having black people and other racial minorities not being served by white bakers or wedding caterers are significant, and that when faced with the difficult choice of ensuring that customers are all treated consistently and equally in the public sphere versus the possibility that some business providers might feel put upon, it is better to err on the side of the former. That is the balance Ashers struck – the bakers can choose not to provide cakes with political slogans, but it shouldn’t be able to select only pro-gay slogans to decline. Similarly, the customers don’t have the right to insist that Ashers bake them that cake; they only have the right to ask for cakes with political messaging if other customers also receive cakes of that sort. This is precisely the sort of balancing – where neither side receives everything it wanted – that the courts deal with every day, that lawyers are familiar with, but that Christian conservatives who think only in terms of bible versus and who think quoting Matthew counts as an argument probably can’t understand.

    This already happens, so why it seems so shocking to you is quite hard to understand. In countries where abortion is legal (up to a certain point), those who disagree morally with abortion simply choose not to become OBGYNs. Christians don’t get to unilterally decide the type of values societies live by, even though I’m sure they’d love to.

  7. I think people are making too big a deal about this case. The number of people who want cakes with political messages on them is vanishingly small. The number of bakers who would refuse baking cakes with political messages and give up the money is even smaller. This is the type of freak case that is news-worthy because it simply doesn’t occur very much in real life.

    The real conflict centers around gay wedding cakes. Here, I think the legal principle from the Ashers case got it exactly right. If Ashers wants to be in the wedding cake business, it has to serve gay and straight couples equally. They aren’t forced to do anything – they can get out of the wedding cake business entirely and only do birthday cakes. This is exactly how public accommodations laws and equal protection laws are designed to work. Note that Ashers can and after the case has simply declined to do all cakes with political messages. As the judge points out, it can in the future decline to make the “Support Gay marriage” cake, as long as it also declines to make “Black Lives Matter!” cakes or “The Tories suck!” cakes.

    The point about enforcing these types of clear public accommodations laws is to prevent discrimination from being cloaked in belief-based garb (see Christian Legal Society v. Martinez). If a white man hates black people and would prefer not to serve them, he can’t get away with it by citing a religious belief. He cannot, for instance, create his own little cult of 100 followers, cite a revelation from a holy book he wrote while in a trance that blacks are inferior, and then cite a religious-based defense to denying service.

    The funny thing about the Ashers case is that most commentators have zero idea how discrimination laws work. Ashers is totally free to NOT bake the support gay marriage cake; it just has to apply it in a consistent and fair manner – that was the verdict, and before you blog about it, you might want to actually read it?

    1. Hi Oliver,

      Thanks for your comment. It won’t surprise you to find that I find your points deeply unconvincing. And by the way, I have read the court summary (no time to read the whole edict) and I find that deeply unconvincing, not to mention disturbing too.

      Ashers Bakery has, as you say, now been forced out of the business of making wedding cakes. They have presumably offered this service for many years, and have presumably served 100s of satisfied customers. The anti-discrimination laws you have cited have now forced them out of this business altogether. That means that they are now no longer able to offer the service, and 100s of potentially satisfied customers cannot now receive this service from them. The anti-discrimination laws have therefore managed to discriminate against a good many more people than the “vanishingly small” numbers of people who might have wanted to use their service to get a same-sex “marriage” message written on it!

      The idea that people are making too big a deal about this case is not so, and the fact that there are vanishingly small numbers of people who want cakes with political messages on them an irrelevance. This was a test case, and by the way it was fairly obvious from his behaviour that Mr Lee used the situation in this way.

      The crux of the matter is about freedom of conscience under God, or tyranny under the state. Should a baker be able to run a “traditional marriage” cake service or not? The statist ruling says no, even though bizarrely in that particular jurisdiction, non-traditional marriage isn’t even legal.

      Anyone who isn’t a statist through and through will say yes, of course they should be allowed to (just as I’d have no qualms in the current situation for a baker to set up an exclusively same-sex “marriage” “wedding” cake service, although that’s a separate issue from the issue of same-sex “marriages” themselves, which haven’t been legal anywhere in the history of the world until a few years ago).

      I would ask you to revisit my example of the Christian who walks into the bakery run by a homosexual asking for a cake. The baker does wedding cakes for all (probably not for those who favour incestuous marriages perhaps). He does them for heterosexual couples and he does them for homosexual couples. But the heterosexual couple asks for a slogan which deliberately shows disdain for same-sex “marriage”.

      Of course this would never happen in real life, but hypothetically if it did, what would your response be if the baker refused? Would you cite anti-discrimination laws which would seek to stop his wedding cake business altogether, in which case he can no longer offer that service to anyone? Or would you say, it’s his business, his conscience and therefore his prerogative.

      If you go for the former, you are a statist and happy to see the law bind men’s consciences. Don’t complain when it ends up binding yours. If you are the latter, you at least have some notion of liberty left in you.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  8. Did the judge pay attention to the motive? I guess not. I’ve the impression he blindly relied on some general principle. Imo however the poisonous angle is clear.
    We all know what a cake is for. For a birthday or just a moment to eat cake together and enjoy the moment. “Support gay marriage” is a statement and a cake is not an artifact to make a statement, it’s simply not suitable for that purpose. If it is used like that one knows the motive is malignant and the purpose is to abuse the law.
    It would be quite different if the writing was “Congrats with your marriage John and Paul”.
    Let the baker make a prayer as written down in Psalm 140

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