Lee v. Ashers Baking Company, A Victory Against Compelled Speech

Asher Bakery Belfast gay marriage cake compelled speech

Today saw a victory against compelled speech and authoritarian government, but fewer and fewer voices on the Left are in the mood to celebrate

Today the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down a decision in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd, the UK’s equivalent of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in the United States (which the UK court actually cited in its ruling).

Both cases came about when plaintiffs claimed discrimination based on sexual orientation after trying to place an order for wedding cakes bearing messages supportive of gay marriage at bakeries owned and operated by traditional conservative Christians, who then refused the orders on the grounds that to produce the cakes bearing the specific messages would violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

From the BBC:

The UK’s highest court ruled that Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.

The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.

[…] The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

But the bakery has always insisted its objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer.

I have long taken the view put forward many years ago by Andrew Sullivan, that gay marriage should be accepted on the grounds that broadening an institution which promotes stability, permanence, mutual responsibility and (consequently) social capital can only be a good thing, especially at a time when social atomization and selfish, destructive cultural hedonism are doing so much to weaken vital bonds at the community and national level.

I would never advocate (nor tolerate) religious institutions being forced to conduct gay marriage ceremonies against their will, but rolling out the basic template of marriage and making it more widely accessible – especially to one of the only demographics which currently shows any enthusiasm for the institution! – seems perfectly sensible to me.

But even more abhorrent than the idea that the government might compel religious organizations to conduct ceremonies which violated their codes and moral systems is the  prospect of government compelling the speech of ordinary people, making anybody who wishes to participate in the public square affirm certain social dogmas on pain of civil or criminal liability. We have already seen Canada start to go down this road with Canadian Bill C-16, a statutory amendment which adds gender identity and gender expression to classes of individuals protected under Canadian human rights law, and moves perilously close to criminalizing the “misgendering” of people. Thus it is not inconceivable that someone could be held criminally liable in Canada were they to refuse to conform their speech to proclaim that trans women are women and trans men are men.

Compelled speech is the very last thing a healthy liberal democracy should be striving to enact. Thus it is great to see at least one human rights and civil liberties group – one which has not yet fully prostrated itself before the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – celebrate the Ashers Baking Company decision.

From the Peter Tatchell Foundation:

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“Businesses can now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to emblazon a political message if they have a conscientious objection to it. This includes the right to refuse messages that are sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay, which is a good thing.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.

“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: Support gay marriage.’

It is sad that statements like this now have to be cheered and encouraged rather than taken for granted by civil liberties defenders and free speech advocates, but such are the authoritarian times in which we live – trapped in a pincer movement between what Maajid Nawaz calls the “Control Left” on one side, and reactionary, protectionist nationalists on the other.

Proving that he is one of the few prominent voices on the British Left who remains capable of thinking through the consequences of implementing illiberal leftist identity politics dogma heedless of the ramifications, Tatchell continues:

If the original judgement against Ashers had been upheld it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could have also encouraged far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

Of course it wouldn’t be; we know that the administrators of this illiberal code – including establishment figures as powerful as the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service – would implement any such statutes or case law highly selectively, punishing only the disfavored “white, Christian male” group while refraining from holding other groups to the same draconian standard. But Tatchell is quite right that the argument for compelled speech, taken not even so far as to its logical conclusion but merely a few steps down the road, would swiftly end up censoring and controlling us all.

The real concern is that old-school campaigners like Peter Tatchell are a dying breed. In fact, they are being hunted to extinction by a new generation of social justice warrior activists whose petty accomplishments are nothing compared to someone like Tatchell (who, like him or not, has labored for years and put his body in harms way more than once in advance of his ideals) but who deludedly think they morally outrank him because they are willing to go further in their rhetorical, legal and constitutional attacks on dissenters.

This is a time when conservatives – indeed, anyone not of an ultra-progressive persuasion – need to pick their battles very carefully. Social conservatives may disagree vehemently with the social views of someone like Peter Tatchell, but in this authoritarian age it is not he who seeks to impose his views on others. Indeed, given the opportunity, some social conservatives would be more likely to impose their own views on progressive dissenters than Tatchell would do to them – which should give serious pause for reflection.

At this time the threat to fundamental rights and civil liberties, when the identity politics Left is hell-bent on compelling the speech of private citizens, forcing them to say words or endorse ideas in which they do not believe, old political divisions must be put aside in order to withstand the creeping incursions of authoritarianism into society. There will be time enough to relitigate social issues once we have jointly confronted and dispensed with the band of zealots who would actually put us in prison for thinking the wrong things.

In these fractious times, the sane(r) Left urgently needs shoring up. Because if things continue on their current trajectory, Peter Tatchell’s ideological opponents on the right will miss him when he is gone.

 

Ashers Bakery Belfast

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Labour And The Left Simply Do Not ‘Get’ Patriotism, And Their Patron Saints Holiday Proposal Proves It

UK Britain Patron Saints

The Labour Party’s genius plan to “unite the nation” by further Balkanising the United Kingdom

The Labour Party and the British Left in general just don’t get it. With the honourable exception of a few Cassandra-like voices warning that the Left must learn to re-embrace patriotism in order to reconnect with millions of lost voters, most on the Left seem intent on screeching “multiculturalism” at the top of their lungs until the United Kingdom (and even its constituent parts) are nothing more than historic entries in an encyclopaedia.

Labour’s latest great initiative is to create four new public holidays celebrating the individual patron saints of the four home nations. From the HuffPost:

A Labour government will seek to create four new UK-wide bank holidays on the patron saint’s day of each of the home nations, Jeremy Corbyn has announced.

The Labour leader said the move would bring together England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while giving workers a well-deserved break.

Under the plan, it would mean there would be public holidays on St David’s Day (March 1), St Patrick’s Day (March 17), St George’s Day (April 23) and St Andrew’s Day (November 30).

“The four nations that make up our great country have rarely been more divided due to the damaging and divisive policies of this Conservative Government,” Corbyn said.

“But where Theresa May divides, Labour will unite our four nations. A Labour government will make St George’s Day – England’s national day and Shakespeare’s birthday – a public holiday, along with St David’s Day, St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day.”

This is the kind of idiotic idea that could only come from a leader, a party and a political movement which have so lost touch with the idea of what patriotism and national identity mean that they can communicate only in meaningless grunts and gestures, like a parrot mimicking speech without understanding the language. Or perhaps an elephant painting with its trunk.

Right now there is a problem with British national identity, inasmuch as it is increasingly missing from the people who are supposed to possess it. Why is this the case? Well, try the fact that our schools fail to teach students a balanced, cohesive and chronological history of their own country, while any attempts to teach citizenship or civics tend to degrade into leftist agitprop pushed by an almost universally left-wing corps of teachers.

Try the fact that national pride and British exceptionalism had become so embarrassing, gauche and ultimately rare among the left-wing establishment that whole explanatory articles were written explaining to people the peculiar warm, fuzzy and hitherto-unknown feeling they felt in their chests when London hosted the 2012 Olympics.

Try the fact that we just went through a bruising EU referendum in which the Remain campaign spent nearly all their time talking – against all available evidence – about what a small, puny and ineffective country we are compared to the swaggering might of, say, Malaysia or Norway.

Try the fact that Scotland has taken the decision to transform itself into a one-party SNP state despite that party’s jackboot authoritarianism and mind-boggling incompetence at governing, while agitating for independence every three years in the hope that certain childlike adults dwelling there might be better protected from the Evil Tor-ees in England, thus further fraying the bonds of our union.

Or the fact that for decades now, leftists have been insisting that we must observe, celebrate and even exaggerate the smallest of our cultural differences rather than celebrate and strengthen the bonds which unite us. Because multiculturalism.

And now that Brexit has given them a scare, Scottish secessionism refuses to die back down to the angry grumblings of the 1990s and 2000s, English nationalism is increasingly demanding acknowledgement and policemen are being killed at the gates of Parliament by homegrown terrorists, these wise mavens of the Left have decided that just maybe it might be worth throwing patriotism a bone after all. Not because of a sincere rethink of their worldview but because someone at Labour HQ thought it would make a good campaign gimmick and a way to garner positive headlines on St George’s Day.

Unfortunately, Labour’s inexplicable response to the challenges we face is to propose the creation of four new public holidays, saints days, which would further emphasise the separateness and uniqueness of the home nations rather than drawing us together in a common celebration of what we have achieved and will achieve together as a single United Kingdom.

One might think that the Left would instinctively realise that in our increasingly secular age, putting the focus of our national identity and patriotism on historical religious figures otherwise unacknowledged by non-Christians is not the smartest pull factor among subpopulations which have until now been encouraged to do their own thing in terms of integrating or not integrating with wider British society. As a Catholic, the saints and their lives have meaning to me. For millions of others, they do not.

Martin Luther King Jr. DayPresident’s Day and Independence Day have meaning for all Americans because they are rooted in shared history, not in waning faith. I know that the Left often like to talk down Britain and our substantial contributions in world commerce, arts, sciences, culture and diplomacy, but I’m sure that if they scratched their heads they might find something in the last few centuries of our national story worth elevating as a day in which all Britons can be proud (but please, not the Fifth of July).

Now, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the unique histories, culture and achievements of our four home nations, and indeed we should do so more often. But too often this comes at the expense of celebrating British or UK-wide identity. As this blog has long argued, what we need more than anything is a single day to celebrate our entire United Kingdom, along the lines of France’s Bastille Day or America’s Independence Day.

And this should be backed by a myriad of other policies and gestures, large and small, which together might serve to nurture a positive sense of British identity around which we can all gather – regardless of ethnicity, colour, national origin, gender or any other grouping.

Some ideas that come to mind: a daily or weekly pledge recited by pupils at public schools; a return to playing the national anthem before top flight (and even lower level) sporting events, rather than reserving such gestures for the FA Cup final; continuing the investment in Team GB at the Olympic games and then celebrating their achievements back home after the fact; doing more to honour the armed forces and others who serve in uniform, both in public life and by encouraging businesses to acknowledge, reward and employ veterans; expanding on the National Citizen Service scheme, one of the few positive legacies from the Cameron government. I’m sure there are a thousand other, better ideas to be added to this list.

Instituting four new public holidays where the British people take the day off from work at significant cost to the economy, just to dwell on the fact that we are four rather than one people, is not the answer. One can’t even call it stupid – it is more the product of politicians who have so lost touch with the idea and importance of patriotism and national identity that they are no longer able to engage in sensible policy discussion on the matter. Rather than criticise Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party for this cack-handed policy suggestion, one pities the limitations to their thinking.

You don’t unite and strengthen a fraying union by chopping it even more firmly into four parts and then frantically celebrating the differences. And though the word “diversity” is almost branded into the minds of many leftists as an unquestionably good thing, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party and the British Left in general would do much better to reflect instead on the far more inspiring words “E Pluribus Unum”.

 

Patron Saints UK Britain - St George England - St Andrew Scotland - St David Wales - St Patrick Ireland

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Handed A Softball Question On ISIS, A Miscalculating Owen Smith Self Destructs

Owen Smith, the supposedly mature and electable alternative to Jeremy Corbyn, is nothing but a pale, naive and cheap imitation

There could hardly have been an easier question asked of the two Labour leadership contenders, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, during the hustings/debate broadcast on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show this morning.

Moving the focus on to the Islamic State (sorry, so-called Islamic State – this being BBC world), Derbyshire asked both men whether or not they believed that any peace process in Syria should involve representatives from ISIS.

Immediately alarm bells should have been sounding in Owen Smith’s head, for this was the most primitive of political traps. Anything other than a robust “hell no!” would instantly be taken to mean woolly socialist accommodation with Islamist extremism, and so the correct thing to do was clearly to temporarily forget nuance, give the robust “hell no!”, and then move on.

Even Jeremy Corbyn managed to get it right. He was clearly lying through his teeth – given his public statements on Hamas and other violent organisations, everyone knows that a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn would fawningly seek to include ISIS in any negotiations. That’s just who he is. But even Jeremy Corbyn, the man who supposedly lacks a political radar, recognised the trap and said “They’re not going to be around the table, no” when put on the spot by Derbyshire.

Meanwhile Owen Smith, desperate to out-socialist Corbyn at every turn while portraying what he mistakenly thinks is an air of grown up realism, charged headlong into the trap, saying:

My record is I’m somebody who has worked on the peace process in Northern Ireland for three years, I was part of the UK’s negotiating team that helped bring together the loyalist paramilitaries, the DUP in particular into the process, alongside Sinn Fein, and my view is that ultimately all solutions to these sorts of crises, these sorts of international crises, do come about through dialogue. So eventually, if we are to try and solve this, all of the actors do need to be involved but at the moment ISIL are clearly not interested in negotiating.

I’m sorry, which one is the waffling socialist dilettante with no understanding of political communications again? Because for all the world it looks as though Owen Smith is the prevaricating incompetent here, not Jeremy Corbyn.

Let us count the ways in which Owen Smith is wrong. Firstly, there is no comparability between the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the ideology-driven, pan-national phenomenon of the Islamic State.

While it sounds statesmanlike and mature (clearly what Owen Smith was striving for) to intone that serious compromises have to be made on both sides in the pursuit of peace, citing the Northern Ireland peace agreement as evidence, it is a very poor comparison. For the Troubles, for all their complex history, were characterised very much by the narcissism of small differences – the furious hatred  which built up between two very similar communities living side by side (Catholic vs Protestant, Nationalist vs Unionist).

When peace negotiations were underway, both sides were prevailed upon to accept a power-sharing agreement in a devolved assembly as well as weapons decommissioning and early prison release for convicted terrorists on both sides. The shared pain was ultimately acceptable to both sides because there was an attractive, shared goal to work towards in the form of a peaceful and more prosperous Northern Ireland.

The difference between the West and the Islamic State (or even between peace-loving Syrians and the Islamic State) does not fit this profile in the slightest. We are not talking the narcissism of small differences, but the belligerence of exceedingly large differences. Islamic State seeks to conquer and occupy territory, and impose its impossibly strict, fundamentalist Wahhabist dogma on all those with the misfortune to become its citizens. There is no compromise, no half-way terms of peace for which the subjugated people of Iraq or Syria could sue, let alone countries like Britain, France and America ,which are the Islamic State’s overseas targets.

The kind of negotiations fancifully suggested by Owen Smith in his failed bid to appear mature and statesmanlike are simply not possible with Islamic State. By their own words and actions, ISIS does not compromise or water down its demands or dogma. “Live and let live” is neither possible nor desirable. Nobody is realistically going to get the Iraqi government to agree to a power-sharing deal involving the surrendering or dilution of sovereignty over its cities. And in the case of Syria, the ongoing civil war means that there is no one authority to speak on behalf of Syrians anyway.

More than anything, this incident serves to underline the sheer superficiality of the Owen Smith candidacy. While this blog was previously encouraged that Smith had at least a few policy ideas of his own (one step better than the hapless Angela Eagle, whose pitch for the top job seemed to rest entirely on her winning personality) these have proven to be nothing but a restatement of Jeremy Corbyn’s own ideas, the kind of policies which a Corbyn manifesto would no doubt have outlined prior to the general election anyway.

With almost zero policy difference between the two candidates, Owen Smith’s only remaining advantage over Corbyn was his supposed electability. Unlike Corbyn, we were told, Owen Smith will avoid making the faux-pas, media missteps and party management howlers which have caused the parliamentary party such unease. And yet in his desperation to defend his left flank, Owen Smith walked into the kind of headline-generating trap that even Jeremy Corbyn managed to avoid.

Did the Parliamentary Labour Party really just squander any opportunity to take the fight to the Tories after the EU referendum and the ascension of Theresa May just to replace Jeremy Corbyn with a third-rate flop of a leadership candidate in the form of Owen Smith? Is this oily, vacuous dilettante really the best that they can do?

Where are the latter-day equivalents of Barbara Castle, Peter Shore, Hugh Gaitskell, Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan or Tony Benn?

How small are the creatures who now seek to bestride the shrunken Labour Party?

 

Owen Smith - Labour Party Leadership Coup

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