Ashers Bakery Verdict is Dodgy and Dangerous

The verdict of the Supreme Court in favour of Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake supporting same-sex marriage is dodgy and dangerous.

It is undoubtedly a complicated case. It makes sense, on the surface, because we all have freedom of speech and freedom of thought; yet it also makes sense that if you are running a business that is serving the public then you have to serve all the public, taking them as they are, whether you agree with their opinions or not.

The judgment was reached because the Supreme Court decided that it was the message, not the person that the Christian proprietors objected to. But how was this fact proved?

I don’t think it can be proved because prejudice is often hidden.

It seems to me that the judges have simply taken at face value what the owners of the bakery have said. How can it be proved that they weren’t using their beliefs as a pretext to conceal a hatred they have for gay people?

This question is important because it is at the core of homophobia and hatred against the LGBT+ community: this prejudice is legitimised and normalised because it is spun as an opinion, it’s just someone’s point of view – especially when it’s religious beliefs that are being weaponised.

It’s a slippery slope indeed.

Denied service today; others and their businesses catch on – a precedent has been set for anyone to guise their prejudice as consciousness.

It was as enraging as it was laughable to see the usual suspects crawling onto Twitter with that undying right-wing trope: ‘victory for common sense’. No one has a monopoly on common sense, which always coincides neatly with your existing opinions. Arlene Foster, DUP leader and acting PM, welcomed the decision claiming it “now provides clarity for people of all faiths and none”.

It really doesn’t. It completely blurs the lines between religious freedom and individual freedom, specifically the rights of LGBT+ individuals confronted with religious dogma. There is no ‘clarity’ for the LGBT+ people who will now have the added anxiety of knowing they can lawfully be denied products and services in their hometown because some are ‘entitled to their opinion’. (Nor is there clarity on the DUP’s position that Northern Ireland must be treated the same as the UK except when it comes to civil rights).

Religious privilege strikes again.

The dire state of civil liberties in Northern Ireland is highlighted. Things might have been different if same-sex marriage was legal in Northern Ireland. The proprietors’ claim that it was inconsistent with their religious beliefs would have then been inconsistent with the law of the land.

But the Judges have interpreted the laws on the statue book and I respect their verdict as much as I disagree with it. I only wish they had looked up from the papers and considered the wider implications of their decision: the impact on individual liberty when confronted with religious dogma; the green light it gives to those who harbour hate; not to mention the damage it will do to the LGBT+ community and individuals, already fighting intolerance in many aspects of their lives, as they watch their judicial system devalue them that little bit more.

* Chris Park is studying for an MLitt in Media and Communication in Glasgow and is a member of the Liberal Democrats

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54 Comments

  • I disagree. A business owner should be allowed to decline business that they don’t want. Business is the voluntary transaction of goods/services for an agreed exchange. It’s a core liberal principle. A cake shop owner can and should be allowed to decline an order for a cake that commemorates the Nazis, denies the Holocaust, celebrates Scientology, promotes creationism, has a golliwog in the design etc etc etc. If one business owner declines the custom, it’s pretty certain another business owner will eagerly accept it, and so be it as long as it’s all legal. One thing about being liberal is accepting that people are going to believe and do things which you don’t agree with.

    People will hold all sorts of intolerant and prejudicial thoughts and views. The way NOT to challenge them is through the use of the strong arm of the law and courts. Doing so goes down the line of heavy handed enforced conformity of thought, which only creates martyrs of people with intolerant and prejudicial views and lets them claim they are being persecuted for thought crimes and thus entrenches such views.

    Peter Tatchell (hardly right wing) summed it up very well on the radio yesterday. He fully condemned the attitude underlying the cake shop owner’s refusal, but he fully supported the right for him to do it and felt the Supreme Court ruling was entirely appropriate. I agree.

  • John Marriott 11th Oct '18 - 10:16am

    I take my lead from Peter Tatchell. If he is happy with the judgement, then so am I. The fact that it happened in Northern Ireland, where prejudices of all kinds, but mainly religious, are more pronounced in certain quarters is unfortunate; but I think that Richard’s final sentence sums the situation up rather nicely.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Oct '18 - 10:23am

    I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at the outcome of the court decision, given that earlier judgements seemed clear, but we all when discussing this, need to be clear that was is under dispute here is not English or Scottish law, but the interpretation of Northern Irish law. This is not a universal UK-wide judgement, as I understand it. We must not mis-portray what is going on.

    As a Christian I continue to be disappointed that conservative Christians use this case to own and politicise the definition of the word ‘Christian’ for their own, possibly sectarian purposes.

    However, there is still a reasonable discussion to be had about whether ‘support same-sex marriage’ (which was seeking a change in the law) is a political slogan or an expression of identity.

    Obviously this case has merits to some because of this grey-area aspect, but this is a nuance that matters; how much can people who identify with groups that are covered under equalities who are expressing their (protected) identity, expect that protection to extend to language and freedom to act relating to their attempts to change law further than exists at present? (NB this is of relevance to the government’s gender law consultation, also).

  • James Belchamber 11th Oct '18 - 10:51am

    I’m not certain of my opinion on this, but I’m sure that this is a poor argument to make – if it cannot be proven that they’ve broken the law, obviously they should not be convicted.

  • The interview with Peter Thatchell on the world at one on radio 4 should still be available on iplayer radio if anyone wants to listen to it.

    Obviously this is not a clear cut case as the lower courts decided against Ashers Bakery and I thought that Mark Eastman also summed up the issues well on BBC News.

    But it does seem to me that freedom of expression is important here – even it is a “reverse” of it – it comes down to freedom to express or not express things – an example being that a printer or publisher doesn’t have to print a book or indeed leaflet etc. if they disagree with it. It seems also to me that freedom of expression is important for LGBT people. Too often LGBT people have told them to be “quiet” about their sexuality – although I understand that freedom of expression is tough for them given their history and indeed the continuing current situation when it comes from religious people (somewhat) opposed to them. But religious people should not now be told that they have to be quiet about their religious beliefs. But I strongly believe that we shouldn’t be afraid of expression, ideas etc. (and hence not been forced to express them) – even if they or wanting not to express them are obnoxious to us.

    A further example being that not expressing complete loyalty to the monarch or PM etc. was thought to be treasonous and unpatriotic – today we have developed the concept of a loyal opposition and that questioning the government of the day is not unpatriotic but a valid democratic discussion. Surely we don’t want the situation where people are forced to do nothing but express pro-Government sentiments? Or religious people HAVE to express a view even if they disagree with it.

  • “How can it be proved that they weren’t using their beliefs as a pretext to conceal a hatred they have for gay people?”

    Or, more pertinently, how can it be proved that they were? It couldn’t, it wasn’t and the charge fell. It’s called relying solely on evidence, not what you might happen to suspect. Whole system of law is based on it. Thankfully.

  • There’s a fine difference between refusing to produce a product that transmits a particular message, for any customer, and refusing to produce a product for a customer because of that customer’s characteristics.

    In this case, the bakery would have refused to bake a cake supporting gay marriage for any and all customers.

    If they’d refused to serve the gay customer any cake without such a message, then they would clearly be in contravention of discrimination law.

    My feeling is that this is a correct decisión. At an ethical level, it doesn’t seem to me you can oblige people to promote something they don’t believe in. And any law that sought to do so would be flawed.

  • John Nicholson 11th Oct '18 - 12:00pm

    I agree with the other comments here, especially that if Peter Tatchell is happy with the decision, that is a good sign. And I agree that we need to avoid politicising the outcomes of the Supreme Court. What really disappoints me, though, is Chris Park calling the decision of the Christian shop owners “hatred”. This seems to me to be a rather illiberal claim: It implies that people who don’t agree with me must be irrationally motivated, i.e. by hatred. Does this apply to every issue? I know lots of people who disagree with me; some even vote Conservative. I can’t put it all down to base motives. Or if I must, I am not sure what the word “Liberal” means in our title and I must be in the wrong party.

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Oct '18 - 12:05pm

    Matt (Bristol) 11th Oct ’18 – 10:23am
    “However, there is still a reasonable discussion to be had about whether ‘support same-sex marriage’ (which was seeking a change in the law) is a political slogan or an expression of identity. ”

    Is there? I think it’s quite plain that “support same-sex marriage” is a political slogan. A political slogan may also be an “expression of identity”, whatever that means, but it’s not an expression of your sexuality. I, for example, support same-sex marriage and am happy to say so (though I’m not much of a baker, so probably best not to ask me to make you a cake); that doesn’t tell you anything about my sexuality, and I don’t think it tells you much about my “identity”, either.

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Oct '18 - 12:08pm

    “How can it be proved that they weren’t using their beliefs as a pretext to conceal a hatred they have for gay people?”

    That’s a deeply chilling question. Even Elizabeth I refused to “make a window into men’s souls”. There is no law against having or concealing a personal prejudice. In certain circumstances (only), expressing a personal prejudice may be against the law, even more so acting upon it. But you’ve got no right to know what’s going on inside another person’s head and certainly none to demand that they “prove” it wasn’t what you think it was!

  • …………………….The verdict of the Supreme Court in favour of Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake supporting same-sex marriage is dodgy and dangerous…………….

    I disagree; it is clear and safe.

    The judgement made it absolutely clear that it is illegal to refuse to offer goods and services on the grounds of race, colour or sexual orientation. However, it also makes clear that one can refuse to ‘promote’ views that one does not hold.

    I gather, from the reports, that Gareth Lee has been served by the bakers on previous occasions and should have been in no doubt about their evangelical Christian beliefs. I’d suggest that the issue was rather more about ‘making a statement’ than just ordering a cake.
    The reference by Richard Church (11th Oct ’18 – 10:00am) strikes me as being very pertinent. If I just wanted a steak why would I seek out a ‘vegetarian restaurant’ to demand it?

  • The court made it clear that refusing to make a cake for someone because they were gay would be illegal, but that it was legal to refuse to write a slogan you disagreed with. It’s a fine line, but much as I disagree with the bakers, I think the decision was correct. It’s important to remember that it only applies to such limited cases though, and does not permit more general prejudice.
    I run HLPS, a printing society for the Liberal Democrats. I also occasionally print for local organisations, including a local church (I’m an atheist). But I would refuse to print for the Conservative Party (not that they’d ask), or indeed for a group campaigning against equal marriage or against gay/trans rights. If I have the right to not do something because of my beliefs, so do others.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Oct '18 - 5:51pm

    About time Peter Tatchell got a long overdue honour, he might be ex Labour, Green member, he is a Liberal and Democrat, he reveals Mill so much more than many who profess Liberalism.

    We have a greater Supreme Court than my dear cousin country the US!!!

    The decision is a good one.

  • Chris Thomas 11th Oct '18 - 6:26pm

    I disagree. I think they’re silly to turn away the business – get over yourself and bake the cake! – but as a principle I think they’re entitled to object on political grounds. Would a Lib Dem supporting baker be forced to bake a cake decorated with ‘Vote Tory’? Or even a more objectionable far right party? I think this is clearly different to a hotelier refusing a gay couple a double room – which is discrimination based on sexual orientation, not a political message. In this case they said they’d serve the customer again, suggesting they were not motivated by his sexuality in declining service. In summary, I don’t agree with what the owners did – but I defend their right to do it.

  • Matt (bristol) 11th Oct '18 - 8:22pm

    I am grateful to Malcolm for skewering my equivocation.

    I probably could have expressed myself more forcefully, but was trying to a) guard against being seen as ‘bigoted’ for speaking against the OP should the consensus on here be against me and b) reconcile with past opinions I have held on this matter.

    I find the consensus on here that the Supreme Court is right, right, right (sorry Chris Park) fascinating in the light of past discussions we have had:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-human-rights-act-when-rights-clash-46200.html

    (At least Malcolm is saying the same things he was in 2015 so cannot be accused of hypocrisy)

    And past opinions by a leader of our party:

    https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/05/22/bbc-question-time-panel-criticises-gay-cake-row-bakery/

    I had to read the LDV archive for May 2015 and Oct 2016 for this post, so I’m going to have a lie down having relived a lot of trauma.

    I think this whole thing – over three years – does raise huge questions about how much Lib Dems now believe in equality before the law, and what they think hate-speech / prejudice / incitement to hatred / intolerance actually is. We’ve cheered on the NI Equalities Commission all the way to an outcome that has divided society, aggrandised the outraged Right, and now appears to be indefensible in law (and apparently lots of us now say we thought that all along).

    It’s made me think very hard and I’m very depressed.

  • John Marriott 11th Oct '18 - 8:27pm

    When I first started producing FOCUS leaflets in the 1980s, we used to include some advertising to help pay for printing. Besides the usual imprint, we used to add “The views expressed in this leaflet are not necessarily those of the advertisers”. It’s probably not a guarantee of immunity; but perhaps people being asked to express views not necessarily their own could use a similar device. But perhaps that’s a bit OTT for a cake.

  • John Barrett 11th Oct '18 - 9:48pm

    Like David Wright, many years ago I also set up a printing business with the sole purpose of promoting the party and electing Liberal Democrats. Many Liberal Democrat organisations up and down the country have done the same.

    One of the reasons I think the supreme court got it right this time, is that they decided that it was clearly about the message, not the person ordering the cake, or in the printing case, ordering the leaflets.

    If a business is set up to print leaflets in order to get Liberal Democrats elected, clearly any order promoting another party would be refused, but if another party, or supporter of another party, decided that they would, for tactical reasons, back the Liberal Democrat candidate and wanted to order leaflets saying so, the order for that leaflet would have been accepted.

    Also – Malcolm Todd’s comments on Chris Park’s “chilling question” were spot on.

  • Matt (bristol) 11th Oct '18 - 11:20pm

    Mark Wright, it’s pretty obvious … in hindsight — I respect your right to change your opinion, of course, but if you follow the link I pasted above, you’ll see you were saying something different in 2015.

  • I think the argument is getting a bit confused. The basis of the original decision was that a customer was being discriminated against because of his sexuality. This was overturned on the grounds that the bakers would have refused to create the cake no matter who had ordered it. Nether of these decisions were about forcing bakers to print any old message the customer asked for. A Nazi asking a Jewish baker to bake an anti-Semitic cake or a racist demanding that black baker make KKK cake would probably be cautioned for racial harassment. The argument was about homophobia not freedom of conscience. What this decision actually means is that Nazi baker could argue that they refused to bake a cake for a Jewish family with a Jewish message on it because of the message not the customers or that a racist could refuse to bake cake celebrating Marcus Garvey. The point being that homophobia and racism fall under discrimination laws , whilst the general principle of freedom of conscience doesn’t.

  • David Evans 12th Oct '18 - 5:16am

    The one thing all this shows is why it is difficult being a Liberal Democrat. It’s that tricky word balance in the ‘we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community’ that makes it so tricky, but it is the key word.

    The fact that a good liberal like Mark Wright has changed his mind over the period of the debate shows how important it is that we discuss these things in full and do not dismiss, ignore or suppress other views, especially those from fellow liberals simply because our initial instincts tell us that something must be wrong. Instinct is useful as a starting point, but it should never override careful analysis in important cases.

    Quite simply we should never assume that we can get perfect justice for minority groups if we do it by suppressing justice for other minorities or even the majority.

    One aspect that still concerns me is the argument that all businesses – be it Unilever or a sole trader should be treated exactly the same. We all have to make a living and should have the right to do it (subject to it being legal) using our talents in the best ways we choose. Some of us do it in a job working for a multinational and others may sing solo or in a small choir for barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals, perhaps part time to eke out a living as a Uber driver.

    Do all our rights as individuals disappear once money might change hands, e.g. a singer refusing to accept work to sing at the funeral of a terrorist/freedom fighter who was a member of some other racial group? To many a job is just a job, to some though it is a key manifestation of what they are.

    The state should not have the right to force people to buy a product from a particular supplier. Should it have he right to force people to sell themselves to a particular buyer?

    Instinct can say business is different, but in reality it is only the side of how we live that enables us to afford the resources we need to enjoy that life. But for some it is also a means by which they do enjoy that life.

    Is it right that we as liberals simply accept that this liberty is constrained for some because they don’t want to sing at a barmitzvahs?

  • Toby Keynes 12th Oct '18 - 8:52am

    This has been a particularly interesting case, and the ruling is only applicable in Northern Ireland but sets down the principles and arguments that could equally apply anywhere in the UK.
    Sometimes we need to be reminded that not everyone shares our liberal views and that our rights may not be as clear-cut, either in law or in principle, as we assume.
    I understand the rationale behind the original judgements (against the bakers), and as a gay humanist I certainly do not share their views on same-sex marriage, but I think the Supreme Court’s decision in their favour is the right one.

  • Matt (bristol): “I think this whole thing – over three years – does raise huge questions about how much Lib Dems now believe in equality before the law, and what they think hate-speech / prejudice / incitement to hatred / intolerance actually is.”

    Non speech is categorically different from speech; a refusal to speak (or ice) approving speech simply cannot be held to be speech, “hate” or otherwise. The same goes for “incitement”.

    Equality before the law, tolerance and lack of prejudice are due to individual human beings alone. Humans have human rights, not ideas, not “identities”, not cultures, not religions, not… The Supreme Court held that the refusal was a refusal to perform a particular service, not a refusal to serve a particular customer. We can, of course, dispute whether they were correct on that ruling, but the discussion would be about whether the person/service distinction and been correctly drawn not the nature of legal equality, prejudice or intolerance.

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Oct '18 - 12:12pm

    Tony Lloyd – well, yes, but Chris Park (above) clearly doesn’t see it that way.

    This article makes the assumption that the court case was valid because the role of society is to stamp out prejudice, and the process has failed because it has not evidenced that there is now hidden prejudice.

    Clearly, it worries me and others that Chris feels this is an appropriate response, and it is problematic that he expects to find a welcome for this view in this party, and that the party’s framing of the debate over 3-4 years has supported this view.

    That was my point.

  • @Matt (Bristol) I wrote the article to express my point of view and I didn’t expect people to agree with my perspective never mind welcome it.

    It’s not up to you, me or anyone else to decide what perspectives and opinions are “appropriate”. In this party I expect all points of view to be heard and debated.

  • OnceALibDem 12th Oct '18 - 3:57pm

    This article is based on a big misconception though:
    “It seems to me that the judges have simply taken at face value what the owners of the bakery have said. How can it be proved that they weren’t using their beliefs as a pretext to conceal a hatred they have for gay people?”

    That isn’t the case. Judges don’t take things ‘at face value’. They base their findings on the evidence. It can be proved in the same way as any other fact can be proved in court.

    As it was here:
    “there was no evidence that the bakery had discriminated on that or any other prohibited ground in the past. The evidence was that they both employed and served gay people and treated them in a non-discriminatory way.”

    That is not Judges taking something at face value. It is them basing a decision on the evidence.

    There is a second misconception as well:
    “yet it also makes sense that if you are running a business that is serving the public then you have to serve all the public, taking them as they are, whether you agree with their opinions or not.”

    That’s simply not the case. Illamasqua for example said they would refuse to sell their make-up to Trump supporters, I can think of examples of businesses saying they won’t sell their products to Tories. It’s a basic principle of contract law that there is freedom to contract, not a compulsion to do so.

  • Matthew Severn 12th Oct '18 - 4:54pm

    it is for the law to prove guilt, not for the accused to prove themselves innocent.

  • OnceALibDem 12th Oct '18 - 6:53pm

    “it is for the law to prove guilt, not for the accused to prove themselves innocent.”

    This was a civil case not criminal though. In civil cases the burden of proof is usually ‘He who asserts must prove’.

  • Matt (bristol) 12th Oct '18 - 9:52pm

    Mark Wright – I haven’t always agreed with you in the past, but I totally see your point – and I’m happy to confess that I have shifted. But it is really interesting that what seems to have shifted so many is a) which side were the ‘winner’ and b) how it is reported in the press.

    If our culture wars continue and litigation after litigation becomes the norm, if we seriously believe ourselves to be an evidence based party, we’re going to have to get considerably better at waiting until the final final final verdict.

    And, of course, this could go to the European COurt of Human Rights if the NI Equalities commission decide to further appeal…

  • jayne mansfield 13th Oct '18 - 12:17am

    @ David Evans,

    Balance?

    It would be nice to think that society was an homogeneous group of individuals all seeking a win, win outcome. But we know that society is not like that. It is a mixture of interest groups all competing for resources.

    It is the role of government to hold the ring, but as we know, governments have their own
    values and beliefs and one cannot entirely trust them to be impartial. Why should we trust a Liberal Democrat Government to uphold the values which the LIberal Democrats and I suspect other governments would claim to hold.

    As with Mark Wright, I took a view based on newspaper reports. As anyone who has served on jury service, this is a dangerous way of forming opinion. One is served facts through the prism of journalist with a particular bias.

    The Supreme Court judges were made their judgement in full knowledge of the facts, not those that were fed to the rest of us by partial journalists.

    As far as Muslim bakers’ refusing to bake cakes with cartoons of Mohammed , or black bakers’ refusing to bake cakes with burning crosses on them, perhaps this case should be should be a wake up to bakers’ that they shouldn’t try drum up custom by claiming that they will decorate their cakes with any message……if indeed that is what was reported / misreported by the press at the time.

  • I strongly believe the supreme Court are correct in their judgement. The right to a freedom of expression and personal freedom is paramount but hand in hand is an acknowledgement that people ha e differing view to your own and accept it. To force your views on another against their will is a breach of their personal freedom. The issue as I see it is that instead of opening and engaging with people we are using courts to hammer people in to a state they have to seek like minded people hence Tommy Robinson and the EDL, we could also argue UKIP came about by an intolerance to a European obsessed order that gave scant respect to their concerns. You reap what you sow

  • As one who was happy with gay relationships in a civil partnership context but unhappy with the concept of gay marriage (largely in keeping with the C of E to which I belong) I was dismayed by the way some triumphalist LibDems regarded gay marriage as virtually a party policy and the way in which Sarah Teather was traduced, This was illiberalism showing its ugly face and I temporarily withdrew my membership. Whether you support gay marriage or not, it was heartening to see Peter Tatchell championing liberalism. The Supreme Court was spot on.

  • OnceALibDem 13th Oct '18 - 6:44pm

    “I was dismayed by the way some triumphalist LibDems regarded gay marriage as virtually a party policy”

    Well it as it was party policy……

  • Glenn
    “I think the argument is getting a bit confused. The basis of the original decision was that a customer was being discriminated against because of his sexuality.”
    Unfortunately I think you are relying upon the media coverage. If you look in the link provided by Matt (Bristol) above:
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-human-rights-act-when-rights-clash-46200.html
    Someone has read the earlier judgement and it is on the basis of “Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1988”
    The comment that looks at this is pointing out the complaint at the time of those supporting the Bakery was it was using the HRA to bully the bakery but actually it was a regulation that makes political opinion a protected category (given that this is NI there is a legitimate concern being addressed in this case), this comment speculates (as appears to have happened now) that the HRA would be the basis of an appeal it that forced speech is a violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the ECHR.
    The initial judgement made reference to the assumed link between being gay and supporting Gay Marriage, but that was a silly jump the original judge should never have made.
    The coverage of this by the media has been terrible and it is a positive that the UKSC (as you would expect) haven’t been intimidated by the media presenting a misleading way and found the most sensible position.
    There is the question left open (which shouldn’t apply in this case) of how far we wish to protect political opinion in law, NI history provides a good perspective on this where on occasion one political (tied to religion but still has a history of not being exclusively religiously set) position being frozen out of political power and potentially discriminated against by businesses. If we are talking about a small chain of shops it is one thing but if it were to be large monopolistic businesses would we be quite so happy?
    The regulation itself was a sledge hammer to crack a nut and therefore inappropriate but it does leave the unanswered question as to where to draw the line (or if people even see it as an issue) and of course there is the slightly broader question that David Evans touches on as well.

  • The idea that the business of a privately-owned enterprise should be wholly “voluntary” and that the owners should “be allowed to decline business that they don’t want” is dodgy and dangerous. It’s one thing if the business is truly private, e.g. if it’s someone selling knit booties to close friends out of his or her own home. But if you open a shop where people can walk in and place orders, your business is no longer wholly private: you are offering a public good and/or service to the public, and your business should be regulated accordingly to make certain that it causes no harm to the public. One of the principles of such a public service is that service should not be refused to a paying customer without good cause. Having a political or moral disagreement with the supposed message that the service might send hardly seems like a good cause for refusing service. It is, after all, the customer who would be sending the message, not the provider of the service. If the business owner feels strongly enough that his or her values would be compromised by providing the service, he or she has the free option of closing the business down, and this is the proper thing to do when you feel that you cannot provide a service to the public in a way that is fair to all comers.

  • nvelope2003 15th Oct '18 - 3:42pm

    David – 1 : Why should anyone be forced to close a business down unless they want to ? If it was the only business providing that service then it might be reasonable to do what you suggest, for example the only village shop. If there are alternative facilities then those who do not like the views or practices of the business owner can go elsewhere. Putting people out of their chosen work because you do not like their views is one of the most illiberal ideas I have ever heard. It seems to be the way that society is going though. Fascism is very much alive and well here.

  • OnceALibDem 15th Oct '18 - 9:56pm

    “The idea that the business of a privately-owned enterprise should be wholly “voluntary” and that the owners should “be allowed to decline business that they don’t want” is dodgy and dangerous. ”

    This is maybe the most bizarre thing I’ve read on this site! Not only is it not dodgy or dangerous. It’s actually at the very heart of operating a private enterprise. You don’t have to accept business you don’t want. Businesses do it all the time and it is at the very heart of contract law that it is an agreement entered into freely by two parties

  • The idea that picking and choosing one’s customers based on their beliefs and customs is “at the heart of operating a private enterprise” is certainly the most bizarre thing I’ve read on this site. Do you really think that most entrepreneurs run background checks on everyone who walks through the door, or quiz them on their political and religious opinons? For normal businesses the only qualification required to receive a service is money. If more than that is demanded, one quite reasonably wants to know why; and if the reason is no more than pure prejudice, the public are quite justified if they wish to limit the ability of a business to act on those prejudices.

  • @David-1

    There is the issue that printers may well decline to print leaflets etc. that are not in line with their beliefs/views. Indeed in some instances printers can be liable for the content as regards libel etc. – see for example https://www.channel4.com/producers-handbook/media-law/defamation/who-can-be-sued

    Clearly blogs, websites and hosting services have their policies on content and comments including this. And a high degree of their own discretion as to which comments etc. to allow.

    As Peter Thatchell has said we don’t want to be in the position where printers are forced to print objectionable material which may be within other rules.

    There is equally the situation where people should not be refused goods or services on the basis of their sexuality. A bakery not baking a wedding cake for an LGBT couple (without a “political message”) when they would bake it for a heterosexual couple is clearly discriminatory and illegal. So clearly as you say businesses do operate as you say under a whole range of legislation.

    Obviously there is a whole range either side of where the line should be drawn – and this is shown not least in this case by two courts coming to differing decisions on the Ashers case. And we should be aware that discrimination can be subtle but equally I do personally believe that probably the supreme court came to the right decision.

  • Peter Watson 16th Oct '18 - 10:01am

    A lot of this debate appears to be motivated by whether or not one agrees with the specific message “Support Gay Marriage” (and perhaps also by views on religious faith).

    I believe it is right that the Supreme Court has stepped back from this to take a broader look at the issue, not least because it also protects businesses from being compelled to print illiberal and offensive stuff that I’m sure all who visit this site would dislike.

    For example, in the 90s Cradle of Filth produced some brilliant music but some terrible T-shirts, and the same is true for a lot of other extreme metal bands whose imagery and text was shockingly explicit, raw and savage even when not about religion. I’ve a few of those album covers on my shelves (though no T-shirts!), but I wouldn’t want to deny any printer, whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish or of no faith at all, the right to turn away that business.

  • Yes jayne mansfield, balance. We do know that society is often a mixture of interest groups all competing for resources, but balance is key to resolving those differences.

    Anyone Tory can always side with big business and any Socialist can always side with the workers. However, we all know the best answer is hardly ever at one extreme or the other.

    That is what makes being a Lib Dem a) special and b) difficult and c) the best approach. Balance can be a tricky thing, but it beats the others,

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Oct '18 - 12:13pm

    @ David Evans,
    Given that the labour party is a broad church, I don’t think one can assume that all Labour supporters are all socialists in the marxist sense, rather than social democrats, and you seem to have a fair number of those within your party having merged with the SDP.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem siding with the workers. I think that most workers realise that they need jobs to go to. What matters to me is that they are justly rewarded for their efforts and they have some security in life.

    I am unsure in what way being a Lib Dem is special. One cannot in fairness, make a judgement on the basis of the limited information one gains on Liberal Democrat Voice, but in many respects, being a Liberal Democrat seems to be an extension of Tony Blair’s ‘third way’.

    It really doesn’t cut it with me, that in order to differentiate , the Liberal Democrat’s plead a special devotion to liberty on their side. There is no freedom in being poor. There is no choice in attending food banks, only humiliation in a society that increasingly seems to judge people on what they have, rather than what they are.

    Quite frankly, I would rather be a class warrior than an identity politics warrior, because it does not matter a jot what identity one has, life is far easier when one has the resources necessary to fulfil one’s needs ( not wants). Poverty is a great leveller.

    Social class is fundamentally important and the glue that held together the community in which I grew up. I use the term community as a geographically defined space. I would like to see a return to more class -based solidarity, rather than the aforementioned identity based politics, one where individuals who have experienced it themselves, recognise that they have the same class- based interests as some members of groups who are currently used as scapegoats.

    I don’t want ‘balance’, I want social justice, and a pick’n mix approach to achieving it is not good enough for me.

    Sorry.

  • David -1: Well of course businesses want to sell their products and services to anyone prepared to pay and very few would refuse customers whatever their opinions but an individual trader should not be persecuted if he does not want to serve someone as there are others who will be more than happy to do so. Market forces might be despised by some here but they do tend to get rid of bad businesses without having to bring in the police and the courts. The idea of persecuting eccentric people is not one any decent person should support. Let us leave that to the authoritarians as they love doing that.

  • @David-1
    “”””The idea that picking and choosing one’s customers based on their beliefs and customs is “at the heart of operating a private enterprise” is certainly the most bizarre thing I’ve read on this site.””””

    But this isn’t at all what OnceALibDem said. That person said that a business owner does not have to accept business that it does not want.

    I’ve in the past been a private tutor of science to children of all ages. With year 10 and up, it is mostly related to exam preparation, with lower years of secondary school it is filling gaps and unblocking areas which are problematic. For primary school, it is to help develop a sense of wonder and excitement of what science is and can offer. I declined business all the time, for all sorts of reasons, and don’t believe I should be compelled by the law (i.e the state) to tutor when and to individuals that I don’t want to (especially since I have another job, which has nothing to do with teaching). For example, I have been asked numerous times to tutor primary school children in preparation for Year 6 SATS. I personally think those exams are ridiculous and testing at such a young age only changes the way primary schools teach, inevitably to the detriment of youngsters understanding what science is. If somebody else wants to accept that business, great. But I reserve my right to decline as and when and for whatever reason. According to you, I should be compelled at the point of law to accept such business. It always amazes me how many people who associate themselves with liberalism have non-existent liberal instincts.

  • James Pugh: “I’ve… been a private tutor…”

    That’s just it. A private tutor. You are not operating a business open to the public. You are offering a service to individuals under (I suppose) individual contracts in each case. Of course you have the right to decide which individuals you wish to work with.

    But a person operating a public business which can be assumed to be open to all customers is not in the same situation. No doubt there are situations where a business can reasonably refuse service, e.g., when serving the customer could cause damage to the business’s property, livelihood, or reputation. But all of those are reasons; the idea that a business can refuse service without a reason, or without any justifiable reason, as a matter of principle is highly dangerous. Such argumentation could justify a private utility denying service to entire neighbourhoods (and thus threatening their health and safety) because some executive did not like the predominant colour, religion, or voting tendency of those neighbourhoods. I see nothing liberal about protecting the right of the powerful to engage in vendettas against those whom they may not like.

  • OnceALibDem 17th Oct '18 - 7:32pm

    I once asked a builder friend to do some work for me. He declined because he said he was getting too old to go gallivanting around on roofs.

    On your test:
    “The idea that the business of a privately-owned enterprise should be wholly “voluntary” and that the owners should “be allowed to decline business that they don’t want” is dodgy and dangerous. ” He would have been compelled to do that.

    “That’s just it. A private tutor. You are not operating a business open to the public. ”

    Yes he is – certainly if he advertises in any way.

    “You are offering a service to individuals under (I suppose) individual contracts in each case. Of course you have the right to decide which individuals you wish to work with. ”

    Why are his contracts, different from those entered into by a ‘public’ business. Legally there is no different contract law for ‘private’ business and ‘public’ business.

    “But a person operating a public business which can be assumed to be open to all customers is not in the same situation. ”

    Please define ‘public business’

    “But all of those are reasons; the idea that a business can refuse service without a reason, or without any justifiable reason, as a matter of principle is highly dangerous.”

    There is a huge difference in legal terms between having any reason or any justifiable reason. If it is a matter of principle it’s either one or the other.

    “Such argumentation could justify a private utility denying service to entire neighbourhoods (and thus threatening their health and safety) because some executive did not like the predominant colour, religion, or voting tendency of those neighbourhoods.”

    Which would be prevent by current anti-discrimination legislation (as well as probably by the legislation covering utility companies.

  • In other words, you admit that there are cases—and not extremely uncommon cases—where businesses are not free to deny services to their customers; that, in fact, we have laws that require businesses not to deny service in those cases. Are those “illiberal”? Or, is in in fact not the case that liberty to choose one’s customers is “at the heart of operating a private enterprise”?

    The real question here is not one of law. You grant that there are instances where a business must provide service. I grant that there are instances where a business may deny service. The question at issue is really one of sentiment—whose rights do you feel are really more important: the business owner’s or the customer’s?

  • David Evans 18th Oct '18 - 9:13am

    David-1 In answer to your questions, in order.

    1) we have laws that require businesses not to deny service in those cases. Are those “illiberal”?

    No. Because the rights of community to receive a supply in the example exceed the liberty of the monopoly supplier to refuse.

    2) Or, is in in fact not the case that liberty to choose one’s customers is “at the heart of operating a private enterprise”?

    Not quite sure what you mean by a private enterprise, as Once a Lib Dem has largely dealt with your misconception there. In normal parlance private enterprise is used in contrast to public enterprises (which water utilities historically were). If by private enterprise you mean a personal business, the answer is yes, subject to the law (as already discussed).

    3) The question at issue is really one of sentiment—whose rights do you feel are really more important: the business owner’s or the customer’s?

    The answer is neither, sentiment should never come into it, the key question is should a customer have the right to insist a supplier provides them with a service?
    After all a supplier does not have the right to insist a customer buys.

  • The judgement of the Supreme Court is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0020-judgment.pdf And it is actually quite interesting and worth a read!

    It points out it was found: “letting double-bedded rooms to married couples but not to civil partners was directly discriminatory because marriage was (at that time) indissociable from hetero-sexual orientation.”

    And that is the key test. A tutor who refuses to teach a gay student when they would teach a heterosexual student in identical circumstances or a roofer who refuses to mend a roof of an LGBT person when they would a heterosexual person’s is behaving illegally because they are discriminating on the basis of someone’s sexuality. But clearly they can refuse business on other grounds – if they have a policy not to teach for certain tests or mend unsafe roofs – because they are NOT discriminating on the basis of a protected characteristic.

    The Supreme Court also pointed out: “People of all sexual orientations, gay, straight or bi-sexual, can and do support gay marriage. Support for gay marriage is not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation.”

    There is a further aspect to this case which there is not in other cases. That is the freedom of expression or non-expression of the bakers. The Supreme Court notes: “It is more akin to a Christian printing business being required to print leaflets promoting an atheist message.”

    The situation @David-1 and @OnceALibDem is that once you start operating a business you fall under a whole raft of legislation – as a bakery, food hygiene regulations for one. These are considered justified interference in a persons’s liberty to operate a business as they see fit for a greater good – in this case not to poison someone! Equally discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic is prohibited. For the greater good – as there is no doubt that LGBT people but also others have experienced great difficulties and hardship because they have been discriminated against. by businesses (and other organisations) in getting goods and services.

    No doubt someone will quote Mill – you should have the freedom to do whatever you want unless it interferes with the freedom and well-being of others. BUT… in life I think it is more complicated than Mill would have us believe.

  • “The key question is should a customer have the right to insist a supplier provides them with a service?”

    I don’t think that’s “the key question,” but the answer to it in any case is that—barring certain emergency conditions—no one can be forced to provide a service; the provider can always close shop and not provide it at all. But any given customer should have the right to have services provided on the same basis as any other customer, and if the customer believes that he or she is being vindictively targeted by the provider,he or she should have the right to seek redress.

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