Flat White

A naked Mark Dreyfus and those Northern Irish bakers

31 October 2016

1:44 PM

31 October 2016

1:44 PM

A wedding cake with statuettes of two meMost are familiar with the children’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. It follows the downfall of a conceited Emperor who fell prey to the cunning of two weavers. They promised him new clothes made of the finest material – so fine it would be hidden from the eyes of those unworthy of their post or “hopelessly stupid.”  The Emperor was excited to possess such extravagance and eagerly purchased the clothes.

When the Emperor tried on the clothes, he could not admit he looked somewhat naked, since the material was invisible to the dull and imprudent. In the safety of the palace where everyone was afraid to contradict him, he was assured of his glorious clothes. It was only when left the security of the palace echo chamber and paraded in public that his foolishness was uncovered. His subjects feigned delight at his new wardrobe till finally, a small boy cried out “But the Emperor has no clothes!”

Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, is that Emperor. Dreyfus told a “Freedom for Faith Conference” last month:

There is no need to oppose marriage equality on the basis of religious freedom. The two are not related. I challenge anyone to stand up and tell me today that their personal belief system will be weakened by a stranger getting married to the person they love.

Admittedly, it wasn’t a young boy who spoke truth, but a room full of lawyers lining up to answer to his challenge. Mark Sneddon, lawyer and Board member of Freedom for Faith, pointed to Dreyfus’ own political party where anyone holding to the belief that marriage is between a man and woman will no longer be permitted to run for preselection. Someone even had the temerity to mention the hastened retirement from the Senate of Joe Bullock.

Outside of the Australian Labor Party, there exist a plethora of examples to counter Dreyfus’ naïve statement that “marriage equality” and religious freedom are unrelated. While Dreyfus probably doesn’t read the Express, Mirror, Telegraph or Independent, one would assume he reads the Guardian. It too reported the case of the Northern Irish bakers who refused to ice a sponge cake with the political message, and in fact defended their refusal to do so.

The details of this particular case are not disputed. Daniel and Amy McArthur took no issue in making a sponge cake for Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist. In fact, they did not know he was a homosexual, nor would they have refused to do so had they known. What they refused to do was to ice a political slogan – “Support Gay Marriage” – that conflicted with their reasonably held beliefs. Their lawyer David Scoffield QC made the point their objection was towards the cake’s message, not the customer:

If a heterosexual person had asked for the same message on the cake they would have had the same response… They could not in conscience provide a product with a message that was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs…

Despite this, the judge rejected their arguments and upheld an earlier ruling that the MacArthurs were guilty of discrimination under Equality legislation – “A baker provides a cake for a particular (sports) team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate support for either,” he insisted.

Interestingly, journalist and gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell saw things differently:

This judgment opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

Indeed, should a Jewish baker be forced to ice a neo-Nazi political message? Should an African-American DJ be coerced to play at a Ku Klux Klan event? Or a Muslim printer be compelled to print derogatory cartoons of the prophet Muhammed? Should it be compulsory for an Aboriginal catering business to serve at an event for the Australia First Party? In a well-functioning liberal democracy, the answer to all those questions should be a resounding ‘no’.

In Australia, I supported the right of TV stations Channel Seven and Channel Ten to refuse to air the Marriage Alliance commercials in August 2015 because they (presumably) didn’t support the political message. Indeed, it was merely last month that a representative from McPherson’s Printing wrote to David Van Gend’s publisher informing them of the decision not to print his book Stealing From A Child – The Injustice of Marriage Equality saying, “Due to the subject matter and content of your book, unfortunately, I have been instructed by senior management not to proceed with printing this title.”And fair enough too.

But there does seem to be an inconsistency when it comes to so-called “marriage equality” and religious freedoms. If TV stations and printers supportive of “marriage equality” can reject airing or printing messages that they disagree with, then surely so should bakers? As Daniel McArthur said after the recent judgment, “If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes, then equality law needs to change.”

However, we know that the push for “marriage equality” would not sit comfortably with religious freedoms. While exemptions will, we are told, be given to ministers of religion, it is far from certain that exemptions will be afforded to bakers, photographers or printers that chose not to support political opinions contrary to their religious beliefs or practice. Will the ALP or for that matter any government that introduces “marriage equality” leave room for those whose religious commitments do not allow them to support the redefinition of marriage? I think we already know the answer to that question.

Dreyfus, like the Emperor, imagines that only ignorant or dull people will fail to see that “marriage equality” and religious freedoms are unrelated! Please, tell that to the McArthurs.

Darren Middleton is Pastor of North Geelong Presbyterian Church and a Board Member of Freedom for Faith


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