Freedom of conscience wins in 2 European high courts

Christian bakers Amy and Daniel McArthur of the United Kingdom refused to bake a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage."
Coalition For Marriage photo
EUROPE (BP) -- Freedom of conscience won against charges of discrimination in two European high courts yesterday and today (Oct. 10 and 11), affirming the rights of a pro-life physician and a baker opposed to gay marriage.

The latest case today set a Norwegian legal precedent on freedom of conscientious objection in the medical profession, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International said. The high court in Oslo, Norway affirmed the right of Christian physician Katarzyna Jackimowicz to refuse to implant in a patient an intrauterine birth control device (IUD) because of its abortifacient capabilities.

Yesterday in London, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom affirmed the right of Christian bakers Amy and Daniel McArthur to refuse to bake a cake with depictions of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage."

Both cases are similar to First Amendment battles involving Christians in the U.S. In July, GuideStone Financial Resources won a lengthy challenge to a birth control provision in the Affordable Care Act. The Southern Baptist Convention entity objected to the act's requirement that employers provide workers with coverage for contraceptives including abortifacients. Hobby Lobby, a Christian family company owned by Steve Green, won a similar challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated "religious hostility" and violated the First Amendment by penalizing Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who had declined to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

In Norway

Katarzyna Jachimowicz cited her Christianity in refusing to implant an intrauterine birth control device in a patient in Norway.
Society for Protection of Unborn Children photo
Jachimowicz, fired from a Sauherad general practitioner clinic in 2015 for refusing to implant an IUD, filed suit the following June, citing her Christianity as a defense. The case was the first legal hearing testing conscientious objection in Norway, according to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

Jachimowicz won her case as early as November 2017 in the Appeal Court of Norway, prevailing in the Supreme Court when the clinic appealed. The ruling is a significant victory not only for doctors, "but for people of faith in all professions," her attorney Hakon Bleken said today in an ADF International press release.

"The ruling protects one of the most fundamental rights, the right to act in accordance with one's deeply held beliefs. Dr. Jachimowicz takes her vocation as a medical professional seriously," Bleken said. "She vowed to protect life, and objected to having any part in taking it. The Court established today that she had every right to do so."

Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, said the ruling is significant for all of Europe.

"This win comes at a time when medical professionals across Europe are feeling increasingly threatened in their positions by a pressure to do things they believe to be morally wrong and unethical," Clarke said. "As such, it provides a valuable legal precedent in protecting this inherent freedom across the continent. This judgment sends a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right under the European Convention on Human Rights which must be protected."

In the U.K.

The McArthurs' court battle began after the couple refused in May 2014 to make a pro-gay marriage cake at their Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for Gareth Lee, according to a press summary at supremecourt.uk, the website of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Lee charged the McArthurs and Ashers with "direct and indirect discrimination" in violation of sexual orientation regulations (SORs) of the Equality Act of 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (FETO) of 1998.

Lee, a proponent of a local campaign in support of legalized gay marriage, had planned to take the cake to an advocacy meeting, Coalition for Marriage (C4M) of London said. Reversing decisions in lower courts, the Supreme Court ruled in the bakers' favor.

"The Court concludes that neither the SORs nor FETO imposes civil liability on the appellants for the refusal to express a political opinion contrary to their religious beliefs," the court summarized its ruling.

C4M, an advocacy group supporting the McArthurs, said the court decision is good news for the religious and nonreligious.

"Today the highest court in the land decided that nobody in the United Kingdom should be compelled to express an opinion with which they fundamentally disagree," C4M quoted social policy analyst Sharon James. "And that's really good news for everybody, whether they're religious or not, whatever their convictions. The case never was about discrimination, and today the McArthurs have been vindicated."

Daniel McArthur publicly thanked God in remarks to reporters outside the Supreme Court building.

"[God] has been with us during the challenges of the last four years," McArthur said with his wife at his side. "And through the Bible and the support of Christians, He has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all His ways are just."

McArthur said the couple knew through the entire ordeal that they had not violated any law in refusing to bake the cake.

"We're particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we've said all along. We did not turn down this order because of the person," McArthur said, "but because of the message itself." Baking the cake would have put the bakers in support of the local campaign for gay marriage, C4M said.

The plaintiff Lee will "always be welcome in any of our shops," McArthur said. On the 2014 occasion, Lee purchased his desired cake from another bakery, C4M said.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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