Compelled speech can never be free
Right now five Supreme Court judges are considering whether the law allows one person to compel another to endorse same-sex marriage.
Ashers Baking Company is defending its decision not to produce a cake which has a message backing legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The message may have been in icing but the principles are just the same. It’s wrong to compel people to say things they don’t agree with. That’s why Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, backs the bakery in this case even though he disagrees with their views.
The courts have already accepted that the bakery didn’t know the sexual orientation of the customer, Mr Gareth Lee. That didn’t stop Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission pursuing Ashers through the courts.
In a sense everyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is also in Court today. It is not merely a ‘gay cake case’ as the media puts it. What is on trial is our whole society’s attitude to tolerance and the freedom to disagree.
Will Muslim bakers be compelled to bake a Charlie Hebdo cake which ridicules their faith? Will lesbian T-shirt makers have to produce T-shirts saying “gay marriage is an abomination”? Will Catholic printers have to print leaflets denouncing the Pope? Will feminist web designers have to produce websites which degrade women?
If Ashers loses, then everyone loses.