jQuery Slider

You are here

PM rejects call for law change in gay cake row: Cameron declines to support 'conscience clause' to protect Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs

PM rejects call for law change in gay cake row: Cameron declines to support 'conscience clause' to protect Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs

Prime Minister David Cameron dismisses idea of creating a 'conscience' clause to protect Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs

Comes amid controversy over equality watchdog's decision to sue a Christian bakery which refused to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage

Clashes between gay rights movement and traditional religious beliefs fuelling political and legal debate over rights of Christians

July 9, 2014

David Cameron has brushed aside calls for a ‘conscience clause’ to protect Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs.

The Prime Minister yesterday dismissed the idea following the scandal over the decision by the state equality watchdog to sue a bakery firm which refused to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage.

The cake, ordered by a gay rights group, would have been decorated with a slogan saying ‘support gay marriage’ and two characters from Sesame Street.

The Equality Commission is now taking the Christian owners of the bakery to court for breaking sexual orientation regulations.

Questioned by MPs, Mr Cameron declined to offer support for the idea of laws to defend Christian beliefs. Instead he told the Commons that gay equality rights are part of being British.

Cameron has batted aside calls for a 'conscience clause' to protect Christians persecuted for their beliefs. He said that tolerance and equality for people with different sexualities are ‘a very important part of being British.’

The Prime Minister’s line contrasted with his call three months ago for more support in Britain for Christianity and the moral code that goes with it.

Mr. Cameron’s latest intervention comes at a time of deepening political and legal argument over the rights of Christians. One senior judge, Supreme Court Deputy President Baroness Hale, has backed the idea of a ‘conscience clause’ to help Christians who want to live by their belief that gay sex is wrong and that same-sex relationships cannot be marriages.

The gay marriage cake case, which stemmed from the refusal of the Christian-owned Ashers Baking Company to make a propaganda cake for the QueerSpace pressure group, appears likely to extend the reach of equality laws. In the past the law on sexual orientation, passed amid a Cabinet rebellion by Tony Blair’s government eight years ago, has been taken to mean that businesses could not refuse to serve customers on the grounds that they are gay.

However the Belfast-based bakery which is now being taken to court by the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland did not refuse to serve its customer, activist Gareth Lee, on the grounds that he was gay.

Ashers Baking Company - named after a verse in the Bible - turned down an order for a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and the slogan 'Support gay marriage'. Rather its owners refused to produce a cake designed to convey a message with which they did not agree.

Mr. Cameron was asked at Prime Minister’s Questions by Democratic Unionist MP Gregory Campbell if he believed the legal action against the bakery was ‘an oppressive threat to religious freedom’. Mr Campbell suggested that ‘such freedoms should be protected by the introduction of a conscience clause.’

The Prime Minister said: ‘I was not aware of the specific case, and I will of course go away and have a look at it.

‘However, I think that a commitment to equality—whether we are talking about racial equality, equality between those of different sexes, equality in terms of people who have disabilities, or, indeed, tolerance of and equality for people with different sexualities—is a very important part of being British.’

The PM claimed he was not aware of the incident but said 'equality' was an important part of being British.

Cameron was responding to a question by the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, who said afterwards: ‘There have been a number of cases across the United Kingdom where so-called equality legislation has impeded the ability of people to uphold their religious beliefs.

‘This latest case locally has seen a family-owned bakery threatened by legal action because they would not print a political slogan onto a cake. Such a message ran contrary to the company’s Christian values.

‘It is disappointing that the prime minister would not comment on the need for religious freedom to be protected through the introduction of a conscience clause.’

The East Londonderry MP added: ‘Tolerance needs to be a two-way street, but this case highlights that currently those who cannot support a particular political campaign may find themselves forced before the courts. That is totally unacceptable.’

The idea of a conscience clause was raised last month by Lady Hale, the judge who presided over the most important Christian rights case yet to come before the British courts. In the case, which involved Cornish guest house owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull and their refusal to accommodate a gay couple in a double room because they were not married, Lady Hale found against the hoteliers.

But last month Lady Hale made a speech in which she said the decision may have been wrong, that the law may have been too harsh on Christians, and that the law should find a ‘conscience clause’ to allow Christians to live by their beliefs.

Mr Cameron’s support for equality is in line with his introduction of same-sex marriage laws. His Government also decided to oppose Christians who went to the European Court of Human Rights claiming their beliefs meant they should be able to wear a cross at work and be excused jobs that meant they would have to help gay couples.

However the Prime Minister has also said in recent months that Britain is a Christian country and that Christian beliefs are important.

Mr Cameron wrote in the Church Times in April: ‘I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.

‘For people who do have a faith, that faith can be a guide or a helpful prod in the right direction, and whether inspired by faith or not, that direction or moral code matters,’ the Prime Minister said.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top