Illustration: Statue of Dr Henry Cooke (1788-1868) in College Square East, Belfast
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The Real Significance of the Ashers Ruling

Date: Saturday, 05 November 2016
Author: Rev E Trevor Kirkland

How have we arrived at a point in our nation when Christians engaged in commerce are found guilty of having broken the law because they refused to fulfil an order promoting a specific form of sexual activity? 


First, the real reason for the ruling. The Lee-v-Ashers Baking Co judgment runs to a lengthy 106 sections of legal analysis and argumentation, as one expects. However, in section 18 there is a rather curious argument made that few have paid attention to. Regarding the ruling against Ashers, it is stated: “To do otherwise would be to allow a religious belief to dictate what the law is”.

Readers must pause and study that statement carefully. Here surely is the nub of the issue. Religion, at least as far as these judges so define it, cannot be allowed to ‘dictate’. 

Ironically, that is precisely what is happening. Substitute ‘religion’ by its equivalent term ‘belief’, and what we see is that one form of belief, namely secularism, must have precedence over another, namely Christianity. Hiding behind the word ‘religion’, judges have given the appearance of fairness. In reality they have announced that the belief of secularism will override the belief of Christians.


How has it happened that Christians are now the law-breakers? In 1836, during a debate with Voluntaryists, Henry Cooke, in defending the Establishment principle, stated that should rulers adopt Voluntaryism the consequences would be radical. In general the moral code of Christ would be abolished as an infringement of civil liberty. Cooke warned of the following consequences should this happen:

First, laws respecting the Lord’s Day would be amended.

Second, laws respecting marriage would be changed.

Third, laws respecting commerce would be altered.

Over the past generation Cooke’s warnings have come to pass: 

Under John Major, laws regarding the Lord’s Day were changed.

Under David Cameron marriage was redefined.

Now it is unlawful for Christians to trade in the public square following their Christian principles.

We are witnessing the full fruit of atheism.


Astonishingly, Michael Wardlow, chairman of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, pontificated that Christians will have to choose between beliefs and profits. This is not something new, but why should it be so? Why should Christians be forced to choose between the two? Why should Christians be criminalised for following their beliefs in the commercial world? After all, that is exactly what every atheist does! He follows his beliefs, and all without any criminal office being committed. 

As Henry Cooke warned, you may disestablish Christianity, but you do not thereby disestablish belief; you merely substitute another belief. But few Christians in the 20th century paid any heed. James Begg saw the same danger when the Church of Ireland was disestablished. Not that he was defending an Anglican Establishment; rather he was for defending a truly Christian Establishment, because the alternative was either papist or atheist. As it turned out, the atheist has thus far triumphed. 

The true significance of the Ashers ruling is more serious than many Christians have grasped. One observant letter writer to the Daily Telegraph noted: “if religion cannot be allowed to dictate the law why do we have halal meat in shops?” We could also ask, what about Hindu funeral pyres, and a host of other practices? In other words, religion does dictate the law. It is why we have the constitution we have. It is why there are daily prayers in parliament. It is why we have the Bible in schools. And on it goes.


The judges’ ruling is for the wholesale abolition of Christian belief from society. Ultimately their ruling means that even lawmakers must be free of ‘religious belief’: if not, why should they be excluded?

What we have here is the fruit of the tree of Voluntaryism, where atheistic belief governs the legal profession, demanding that Christians comply or face the consequences. 

And that is the real significance of the Ashers ruling for any who care to pay attention.


Photo credit:
Albert Bridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons