“Religious persecution”

A woman claims she will shut down her wedding cake business, because she does not want to sell wedding cakes to gay couples, and she would be forced to do so by the Equality Act. She fears prosecution, and claims that three hundred Christians have been prosecuted in Canada simply for “their belief in traditional marriage”. She comments,

My religion clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. It clearly states that to take part in a homosexual act is sinful. I didn’t write these rules, the church didn’t write these rules, God did! I would be more than happy to sell a birthday cake to a gay person – there is no moral issue there, but I am unable to help the celebration of something my religion deems sinful. The issue is that there is no protection in law for people like myself. I either have to go against my religion, or risk prosecution. In the 21st century, UK law does not protect my right to freely practise my religion – that’s the problem.

Her misunderstandings are typical of those opposing equal marriage, and should be refuted.

The statute is the Public Order Act 1986 as amended, part 3A: Hatred against persons on religious grounds or grounds of sexual orientation. Not all of this part has been brought into force by commencement order, yet.

s29B(1) A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

s29A In this Part “religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

s29AB In this Part “hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to sexual orientation (whether towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both).

Note the protection of freedom of expression sections:

s29J Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

s29JA In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

“Threatening” is an ordinary word, with an ordinary meaning, but the Crown Prosecution Service states:

The following types of conduct are examples which may at least be capable of amounting to threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour:

  • threats made towards innocent bystanders or individuals carrying out public service duties;
  • the throwing of missiles by a person taking part in a demonstration or other public gathering where no injury is caused;
    scuffles or incidents of violence or threats of violence committed in the context of a brawl (such as in or in the vicinity of a public house);
  • incidents which do not justify a charge of assault where an individual is picked on by a gang.

Threatening, abusive or insulting is the offence in s4 of the Act. For religious hatred, the CPS points out the need to prove the speaker intended to be threatening, rather than that the words would likely be thought threatening by the victim; and it is not an offence to use words which are abusive or insulting but not threatening.

So you can call Catholics fools who believe evil rubbish, but you cannot tell them you are going to beat them up because they are Catholic. And you can loudly proclaim that gay people are sinners, in danger of the fires of Hell.

Under the Equality Act, a gay couple could seek damages for her refusal to provide her business’s services to them, because they are gay; by s119 an award of damages may include compensation for injured feelings. Because the victim must enforce the law, and the prosecuting authorities cannot get involved, few such actions occur. Most victims do not want to commence court action.

16 thoughts on ““Religious persecution”

  1. I get tired of people who say, “I would love to be charitable, but My God forbids me to be.” Okay then, go and live in your world where everything you do is defined by what Your God Forbids, and forget the first rule of Christian living. Or any living, come to that. Love Your Neighbour As Yourself. In other words, accord them equal respect.

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    • For some, the Rules are more important than the Love. Rules provide a framework to make us feel safe. Love is adventure and strangeness and so threat. Rules make us able to fulfil the demands, Love makes the demands nothing, and everything.

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  2. Wow, you find the best blogs! I really like the post too, it’s very informative. I think the law covers things pretty well, allowing for freedom of thought and opinion, while drawing the line at a sensible place. Are you happy with it?

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    • Have a look at her photos of her wedding cakes. She produces beautiful things.

      After seeing you here, I note I have not specified this is only English law. “Threatening” language is wrong, just as staring at someone and balling your fists is. I have written my post for tomorrow on Saskatchewan, which goes further, making hate speech unlawful. I don’t know.

      I think public obloquy is a good sanction against saying repellent things, and law helps to move society so that people feel proper revulsion. Actually, I prefer the Marriage Bill as a way of creating that, rather than the criminal law. I want people to stop writing nasty things about gays because they know it is wrong, rather than because they are frightened to.

      I want to say harsh things about Islam and Muslims. I don’t want them threatened, individually or communally.

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      • “I want people to stop writing nasty things about gays because they know it is wrong, rather than because they are frightened to.” Absolutely. But maybe some reflection on the fact that most people in society know it’s wrong (and therefore it’s law) will come.

        “I want to say harsh things about Islam and Muslims. I don’t want them threatened, individually or communally.” Couldn’t agree more. As you know, I’m opposed to organised religion because I think it’s inevitably harmful when groups come together making rules based on imaginary deities. It’s easy for me to tear into Christianity because they aren’t threatened where I live but I am cautious about jumping on the criticising Islam bandwagon because I know much less about it and I’m conscious there’s a real hateful discriminatory xenophobic reaction kicking about these days. I don’t think feeding that fire is constructive at this point in time. I feel the ongoing criticism feeds the threatening behaviour that drives people into their ideological corners and further away from open discussion.

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        • Yes. But I think the Marriage Bill helps create a climate of acceptance more than the Public Order Act does. I hate being told what to do, and I rebel; and with the marriage legislation, we see that queer equality is necessary.

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  3. I’d have more respect for her if she came out and said that they just didn’t want to work with lgbt people. She hides behind the bible, when the bible also says that we shouldn’t wear clothing made of two different materials, nor should we eat shellfish. If we are going to pick and choose what rules we want to follow, then how can we take you so seriously when you seem to take a stand on the rules you want to follow.

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    • Welcome, Danny. Thank you for commenting. “Unshackling Progress” is worth a look.

      All Christians pick and choose from the Old Testament, and to a lesser extent from the New Testament. “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me”. Well, that only applies to the man he said it to. Probably. The Church of Scotland’s founding document the Westminster Confession says that the Ten Commandments apply to all people, but the rest of the old Law is past.

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  4. I wonder if she sells cakes for people’s 21st bday parties if they talk about alcohol over use in front of her… I vote for closing. If you can’t stand the thought, then close the store. Maybe God doesn’t want you to bake cakes for people because you may be a testimony against grace and love in God’s name. Wa wa. This kind of thing is getting old and isn’t doing what these people think it will do.

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    • She did say she would sell a birthday cake to gay people, but did not want to be contribute to the celebration of something she found sinful. I suppose the difference is that getting drunk on your birthday is an individual sin, but entering a gay marriage is called a state of sin. That argument works: a continuing state is more serious than an individual act. Where it doesn’t work is that the marriage will do good to the relationship and to the parties, and there is no valid moral argument against it.

      I am not sure what to do with this other Clare’s sense of hurt, though. I have some sympathy.

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  5. Pingback: serious problems for religious freedom (and cakes) | violetwisp

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