The cases – both in the County Court, one from London and the other Belfast – concern refusing gypsies and travellers entry to a pub and refusing to supply a cake bearing the slogan “support gay marriage” that was contrary to the shop-owners’ religious convictions.
In perhaps the more straightforward case JD Wetherspoon was ordered to pay £24,000 in damages after HHJ Hand QC ruled that staff at The Coronet in Holloway Road had acted illegally when they denied entry to a group of people who had been attending a nearby conference organised by the Traveller Movement charity. Lawyers for the Traveller Movement claimed that the group – which also included a police inspector, a barrister and a priest – were told by the doormen that the pub was “not allowing Travellers or people from the Traveller conference to enter”. The allegation was denied by Wetherspoons, but the judge held that the policy of the then pub manager had been “irrational” and that his thinking had been “suffused with the stereotypical assumption that Irish Travellers and English Gypsies cause disorder wherever they go”.
Concluding that the manager’s actions had amounted to “racial stereotyping”, the judge commented: “It can be reduced to this crude proposition: whenever Irish Travellers and English Gypsies go to public houses, violent disorder is inevitable because that is how they behave.”
JD Wetherspoon had apologised to the eight individuals who were denied entry to the Coronet for any “upset and distress” caused.
In Lee v Ashers Baking Company, following a 3-day hearing at Belfast County Court, District Judge Isobel Brownlie held on 19th May 2015 that a Christian-run bakery discriminated against a gay customer by refusing to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. As a business, Ashers was found to have discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation as well as his political beliefs. The judge said she accepted that Ashers has “genuine and deeply held” religious views, but said the business was not above the law.
The case raised yet again the conflict between ECHR Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 14 (Prohibition of discrimination). The latter states:
NB. There is no express reference to sexual orientation in Article 14, but quaere whether this can fall within the definitions “other opinion” or “other status”?
We have been here before in Bull and anor v Hall and anor  UKSC 73;  1 WLR 3471 (reported as Preddy v Bull), where the appeal by a Christian couple running a hotel who refused to permit a male couple in a civil partnership to share a double bedroom was dismissed by the Supreme Court (all lower courts having found against them). Baroness Hale outlined the history of the legislation as follows :
However, in what some may regard as the even more extreme case of Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission for England and Wales  UKUT 395 (TCC);  2 All ER 1114 Sales J upheld the decision of the General Regulatory Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal on appeal from the Charity Commission to refuse to allow a Catholic adoption agency to amend its memorandum of association to take advantage of a limited exemption for charities (now in section 193 of the 2010 Act) from the general law prohibiting discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, sexual orientation. The charity refused to accept anyone other than “Nazarene families” of mother, father and child to apply to be adopters, thus directly discriminating against same sex couples in stable relationships.
The judge observed that notwithstanding the statements in the European authorities about the legitimacy and acceptability of views in favour of promoting traditional family life, it was also clear that even where a body acted in accordance with such views, if in doing so it discriminated against homosexuals it was still necessary for it to show that there were particularly convincing and weighty reasons justifying differential treatment. (see paragraph  of the judgment). The extent of the benefits to children and the likelihood that such benefits might be achieved were relevant considerations to be taken into account in determining whether weighty and convincing grounds had been established to justify the proposed discrimination against homosexuals.
Those in business must therefore take great care not to apply policies based on stereotypical ideas or prejudices, and those with deeply held religious convictions must remember to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and in their dealings with fellow citizens try to separate their religious beliefs from their duty to treat all potential customers with equal consideration.