PRESS RELEASE: Bosses should have the right to turn down business in conflict with their conscience, says new survey

Nov 22, 2016

Business owners and shopkeepers who decline orders on conscience grounds should not face legal action, says a new survey.

  • Nearly seven in ten back right of businesses to follow their beliefs.
  • More than six in ten believe it was wrong to take Ashers Baking Company to court.
  • Young most likely to back court action.
  • Public sector employees generally more likely to back court action.

Business owners and shopkeepers who decline orders on conscience grounds should not face legal action, says a new survey.

The poll found that seven in ten (69 per cent) of those who responded believe that businesses such as bakers and printers should be able to decline customer requests that conflict with their consciences.

The survey, carried out by ComRes earlier this month, asked 2,000 British adults about eight possible scenarios and whether for each one they thought the business owner should face legal action for following their beliefs.

Asked about a Muslim printer who refuses to print cartoons of Mohammed, just one in ten (11 per cent) said they should face court action, with almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) saying they should not.

The poll found similar support for the hypothetical case of an environmentalist consultant refusing to work for a fracking company; just nine per cent said they should face legal action while 70 per cent said they should not.

Dr Sharon James, spokeswoman for Coalition for Marriage, described the poll as ‘eye-opening’ and said it showed that the current law is “out of step with mainstream public opinion”.

The survey was commissioned in the wake of the decision by the Belfast Court of Appeal to reject an appeal by Ashers Baking Company. The family-run bakery was taken to court by a taxpayer-funded equality watchdog after refusing to make a cake for a campaign group carrying a picture of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.

The Court, while acknowledging that the bakers were happy to sell their goods to anyone and did not know or care that the customer was gay, nevertheless dismissed their appeal, saying that the bakers did not have the right to withhold a service from a campaign even if it went against their beliefs.

Ashers Baking Company, based in Northern Ireland, won widespread support for their case with two thirds of the public saying it was wrong to take them to court.

Asked whether a bakery run by Christians which refuses to bake a cake with the words ‘support gay marriage’ should be taken to court, more than six in 10 (65 per cent) said they should not, while just one in six (16 per cent) said they should.

Dr James commented: “This survey is a real eye-opener. It shows that the majority of people believe that businessmen and women who hold religious or philosophical beliefs, should not face being sued for declining to provide services that promote the views of those they fundamentally disagree with.

“The fact that they are being sued – and losing – shows that laws protecting free speech and freedom of religion need to be reviewed. They are failing to protect people from legal action for simply holding traditional beliefs, or unconventional and challenging views. The law – or its interpretation – is out of step with mainstream public opinion, which embraces diversity, dissent and debate.”

C4M has repeatedly warned that more needs to be done to protect free speech on traditional marriage and that out-of-control political correctness is driving “state-sponsored harassment” of those with traditional beliefs.

The organisation has previously highlighted the case of Adrian Smith, a housing manager from Trafford Housing Trust. Mr Smith, a Christian who does charitable missionary work in Africa, was disciplined for posting a message asking whether gay marriage in churches was “an equality too far” on his personal Facebook page. Following a complaint from a colleague, he was demoted and had his pay docked by 40 per cent.

Despite winning a lengthy legal battle, which ended in the High Court in 2012, Mr Smith has not been reinstated to his old position, a fact the judge Mr Justice Briggs described as “an injustice”.

C4M also highlighted the case of Rev Ross, the chaplain to Strathclyde Police, who was dismissed for supporting traditional marriage.

The poll showed those under 34 years old were the most likely to back court action against businesses who said no on religious or philosophical grounds. Public sector employees were more likely to support court action across seven of the eight scenarios.

Dr James concluded: “A top human rights lawyer looked at a series of scenarios that could follow on from the Ashers ruling.

“Aidan O’Neill QC warned that if the case against Ashers was successful, it would open the floodgates to similar complaints across the UK, such as a clothing company owned by a lesbian couple being unable to decline an order for T-shirts carrying a message describing gay marriage as an abomination.

“Sadly his predictions, along with our own, are coming true; ordinary men and women are being penalised for holding respectable, mainstream beliefs shared by billions around the globe. We must stop this state-sponsored harassment of those who believe in real marriage.”

For media enquiries, please contact the C4M press office on 07761 606 239.

Notes to Editors: Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is a UK-based broad alliance bringing together both secular and faith-based groups and individuals who opposed attempts to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

The Coalition was launched on 20th February 2012 in London by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.

ComRes interviewed 2,000 GB adults aged 18+ between 4th and 6th November 2016. Data were weighted by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade to be representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables available at