By Quddous Ahmed
A Northern Ireland Bakery has been found guilty in a landmark ruling of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage theme.
Ashers Baking Company received worldwide support from evangelical and born-again Christians over its refusal to make the cake for a local gay rights activist in the region.
But a judge in Belfast High Court on Tuesday ruled that the family-owned firm was guilty of discriminating against Gareth Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation.
District judge Isobel Brownlie acknowledged that the McArthur family, who own Ashers, do “hold genuine deeply-held religious beliefs”.
However, she pointed out that government regulations were there “to protect people from having their sexual orientation used for having their business turned down”.
The judge added: “I believe the defendants did have the knowledge that the plaintiff was gay.”
Outlining her reasons why this was a case of discrimination, Brownlie said: “The defendants are not a religious organisation. They conduct a business for profit. As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs, this is a business to provide service to all. The law says they must do that.”
Ashers was ordered to pay agreed damages of £500 plus court costs.
The firm was accused of discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation against Lee, a volunteer with gay rights campaign group QueerSpace.
During the three-day court hearing in March, Lee said the decision by Ashers to hand back the £36.50 he had originally paid for the cake “made me feel I’m not worthy, a lesser person and to me that was wrong”.
Discrimination happens every day across all parts of the world however it is especially rampant when people hold on to dogmatic religious views and fail to translate them into practical and beneficial behaviour.
Ashers Baking Company, as a business, had no right to refuse an order regardless of the request. Similarly, many religious groups and divisions within religion suffer the same ailment. What seems to be a religious directive to safeguard the sanctity of faith, men have taken it upon themselves to be the guardians of their faith.
In Islam, God Himself tells us, “Indeed, We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed, We are surely it’s Guardian.” (15:09 / 15:10)
It must also be remembered that nobody can impose someone else’s religion and that people are free to choose, follow and practise whatever faith they wish. The famous verse comes to fore, “There is no compulsion in religion…” (2:256 / 2:257)
Muslims, Christians and Jews as well as those of no faith and other, are all naturally duty bound to take care of the rights of the other and love thy neighbour.
May we all be able to do so in the best possible way.
Sources: Sky News Online, The Guardian Online, The Times Online, The Holy Qur’an