Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

(Some) freedom for Northern Ireland bakers

Religious Liberty | Christian couple successfully defends rights from LGBT attack
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 10/16/18, 03:42 pm

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed a legal victory to Daniel and Amy McArthur last week, four years after the Belfast bakers refused to make a cake with the inscription “Support Gay Marriage” for customer Gareth Lee.

Moments after the unanimous ruling, the Northern Irish couple smiled and expressed their delight to reporters. “I want to start by thanking God,” Daniel McArthur said. “He is our rock, and all of His ways are just. We are delighted and relieved at today’s ruling. We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order.”

In 2014, Lee walked into the McArthurs’ business, Ashers Baking Company, and asked them to design a cake he wanted to take to a party hosted by the LGBT group QueerSpace. The design featured Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, the QueerSpace logo, and the phrase, “Support Gay Marriage.”

Amy McArthur initially took the order, and Lee paid for the cake.

Over the weekend, the McArthurs decided creating the cake would violate their conscience. They refunded Lee’s money, and he had the cake made at a different bakery.

Lee complained to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), which funded his legal battle against the McArthurs. A judge slapped the couple with a 500 pound fine, and they lost every court appeal since then until Wednesday.

The case bears some resemblance to the June U.S. Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission but with one key difference. The U.K. ruling only protected bakers from writing words they disagree with on the cake, while the U.S. ruling, which involved a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, could be interpreted more broadly.

“Whatever the exact design, it celebrates a wedding, and if the wedding cake is made for a same-sex couple it celebrates a same-sex wedding,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his opinion in the Masterpiece ruling.

It’s unclear whether the Ashers ruling would apply to a baker who declined to make a cake that didn’t have any writing on it for a same-sex wedding.

Still, the Ashers case was a win for freedom of speech.

“It hinged on the words,” said Ciarán Kelly, deputy communications director with the Christian Institute, the group that defended the McArthurs. “The McArthurs believe in a Biblical view of marriage, so they didn’t want to express the view which was being requested, which was ‘Support Gay Marriage.’”

Peter Tatchell, a gay activist who initially condemned the McArthurs but later changed his mind, applauded the ruling since it would also protect people from promoting anti-gay messages. “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,” he said in a statement.

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, the international arm of Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that defended Colorado baker Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece case, called the U.K. ruling on Thursday “crystal clear,” adding, “Today’s win benefits all private citizens and helps ensure that the government may not force them to create messages with which they fundamentally disagree.”

Susie Leafe, director of operations of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), an international group that promotes Biblical teaching in the Anglican Church, told me the ruling holds a hidden danger for Christians. It leaves the door open, for instance, for book publishers to turn down books that put forth a traditional view of marriage.

“It will protect people’s freedom to not to have to put forward messages that they don’t believe, which is a good thing,” Leafe said. “As Christians become more and more the minority, it’s possible there will actually need to be Christian printers around to print things.”

The ECNI could still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but Kelly told me they probably would not succeed, especially since all five judges on the U.K. high court ruled in favor of the McArthurs.

Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh (file) Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh (file) IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

To file or not to file—Form 990

A secular humanitarian group founded by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is going to court over rules that exempt churches and church-affiliated organizations from certain IRS filing requirements.

The foundation’s executive board created Nonprofit Relief in 2015 for atheists and agnostics to pursue international humanitarian work, including assisting people persecuted for being atheist. The IRS revoked its tax-exempt status Aug. 20 after Nonprofit Relief refused to file the required Form 990 financial summary three years in a row. The FFRF is suing the IRS to reinstate Nonprofit Relief’s tax-exempt status and stop the agency from having different filing requirements for churches.

Per IRS rules, churches and church-affiliated organizations don’t have to file Form 990, though unaffiliated religious organizations do. The forms provide financial and organizational information about nonprofit organizations that is accessible to the public. Annie Laurie Gaylor, who is president of Nonprofit Relief and co-president of the FFRF, told Religion News Service that Nonprofit Relief informed the IRS when it applied for tax-exempt status that it had no intention of filling out the form.

The FFRF challenged churches’ exemption from Form 990 in 2014, but a U.S. district court judge in Wisconsin dismissed the case. The court ruled that the FFRF did not have standing to sue since it was not challenging the requirement imposed on it, only the exemption offered to others, and thus suffered no harm. Now Nonprofit Relief claims it was harmed because it lost tax-exempt status for not turning in the form when a church would not be penalized for the same behavior. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

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Renter’s rights

A senior living facility in Fredericksburg, Va., threatened to evict one of its residents this summer for trying to host a Bible study, according to a complaint filed on his behalf by First Liberty.

Other residents had asked Ken Hauge, a retired Lutheran pastor, to host the study. He first held it in his apartment, then later reserved a common room at the Evergreens at Smith Run. The apartment manager required him to call it a “book review,” and then this summer, the Evergreens passed a new policy prohibiting residents from reserving the common room for “religious purposes.” Additionally, the complex called the Bible studies “commercial activity” prohibited by Hauge’s lease and threatened to evict attendees if they didn’t stop.

First Liberty attorneys submitted a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this month against the Evergreens and Community Realty Company for violating the Fair Housing Act. So far, the realty company hasn’t responded to the letter or rescinded its threat. —R.L.A.

No rest for the Little Sisters

The Little Sisters of the Poor are back in court this week defending their exemption to the federal mandate that would require them to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees, according to the legal defense group Becket.

The Catholic organization won an injunction against the mandate from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2016 ruling Zubik v. Burwell, which sent the question back to the lower courts and essentially told the opposing parties to work it out. When the Trump administration in October 2017 signed off on regulations that protected the religious liberty of nonprofit groups that object to providing contraceptive and abortifacient coverage, it seemed the fight was finally over. But California, along with seven other states, immediately sued to end the exception. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments on Friday for State of California v. Little Sisters of the Poor. —R.L.A.

Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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Comments

  • Bob C
    Posted: Thu, 10/18/2018 02:07 pm

    To file or not to file—Form 990 - I think it is called, Nonbelief Relief, Inc.?

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