Conscience and cake

4495195_origGareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur [2015] NICty 2 – read judgment here.

In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .

The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.

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Conscientious objection to abortion: Catholic midwives lose in Supreme Court

pic_giant_051713_Therapeutic-Cloning-of-Human-EmbryosGreater Glasgow Health Board v. Doogan and Wood [2014] UKSC 68 – read judgment here.

The Supreme Court recently handed down its judgment in an interesting and potentially controversial case concerning the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act 1967. Overturning the Inner House of the Court of Session’s ruling, the Court held that two Catholic midwives could be required by their employer to delegate to, supervise and support other staff who were involved in carrying out abortion procedures, as part of their roles as Labour Ward Co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

We set out the background to the case and explained the earlier rulings and their ramifications on this blog here and here. The key question the Supreme Court had to grapple with the meaning of the words “to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” in section 4 of the 1967 Act.

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The paradox beneath Strasbourg’s French veil ban decision

french-veil-ban-001S.A.S v France (Application no. 43835/11) – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected a challenge to a French law which prohibits the wearing of veils in public. The ruling is, of course, of great political and media interest, but it is also significant from a legal perspective. In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the Court ultimately accepts that, as a matter of principle, a government can legitimately interfere with the rights of individuals in pursuit of social and cultural cohesion.

On 11th April 2011, Law no. 2010-1192 came into force in the French Republic. Subject to certain limited exceptions, the law prohibits anyone from wearing any clothing which conceals their face when in public places, on pain of a 150 euro fine, and/or compulsory citizenship classes. Whilst phrased in general terms, the most obvious effect of the law, and its clear intention, is to ban the niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes visible) and the burka (a loose garment covering the entire body with a mesh screen over the face).

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Supreme Court reduces religious no-go area for courts

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeKhaira v. Shergill [2014] UKSC 33, 11 June 2014   read judgment

Adam Wagner assisted two of the respondents in this case on behalf of Bindmans, solicitors, but was not involved in the writing of this post.


The Supreme Court has just reversed a decision of the Court of Appeal (see my previous post here) that a dispute about the trust deeds of two Sikh religious charities was non-justiciable and so could not and should not be decided by the Courts. By contrast, the SC said that two initial issues concerning the meaning of trust deeds were justiciable, and, because of this, further issues which did raise religious issues had to be determined by the courts.

The wider interest of the case is its tackling of this tricky concept of non-justiciability.

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M&S, Muslim employees and the tricky issue of reasonable accommodation

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.26.46Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?

Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.

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Gay discrimination and Christian belief: Analysis of Bull v. Hall in the Supreme Court

Peter-and-Hazel-Bull-007Bull v. Hall and Preddy [2013] UKSC 73 – read judgment here.

The recent confirmation by the Supreme Court that it was unlawful discrimination for Christian hotel owners to refuse a double-bedded room to a same-sex couple was of considerable interest as the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving religious belief and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and the first such judgment involving the highest court in the land). We have already provided a summary of the facts and judgment here, and our post on the Court of Appeal ruling can be found here.

The case has been  portrayed in some media as a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, with gay rights winning – see e.g. the Daily Mail’s headline: B&B owners’ right to bar gay couple crushed by ‘need to fight discrimination’. This is despite the best efforts of Lady Hale, who gave the main speech, to emphasise at paragraph 34 that this decision did not amount to replacing legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (Christians and others who shared the appellants’ beliefs about marriage), because the law equally prohibits a hotel keeper from refusing a particular room to a couple because they are heterosexual or because they have certain religious beliefs. However, moving beyond this simplistic portrayal of the issue at stake, there are several interesting legal points in the decision, which may raise more questions than it answered.

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Christian care worker loses Sunday working discrimination appeal – Richard Wayman

300px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_014Mba v London Borough Of Merton [2013] EWCA Civ 1562 – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion or belief.

The Court unanimously found that although both the EAT and the Employment Tribunal (ET) had erred in law, the ET’s decision was ‘plainly and unarguably right’ [24], and applying the principle in Dobie v Burns International Security (UK) Limited [1984] ICR 812, the errors did not make any difference to the outcome.

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