Christians are facing increased oppression and persecution in the UK, says columnist and former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe.
In the wake of the Ashers judgment, which she calls “something of a nonsense”, Widdecombe lamented how the country’s views on free speech had changed.
Writing for Roman Catholic newspaper the Catholic Herald, she described how, historically, being forced to affirm beliefs contrary to conscience was “rightly recognised as the hallmark of totalitarianism itself”.
The former Home Office minister recalled that when she was recently in Gibraltar – where the parliament recently passed a same-sex marriage Bill – a senior politician there told her that it was important for them “not to be like Britain”. Citing Ashers, he spoke of the need to protect freedom of religion and conscience in statute.
In her article, Widdecombe argues that in the case of Ashers Baking Co the law failed to protect freedom of conscience and even went beyond censorship.
"In the Ashers case,” she wrote, “the principle of not being allowed to express a view has been extended to being forced to affirm one – an infringement of individual liberty that would have been unthinkable not so very long ago.”
Widdecombe compared this with the case of another Christian Institute client, Adrian Smith.
His freedom of conscience was upheld when in 2012 the High Court ruled that he had been unlawfully treated when he was demoted at work and given a 40 per cent pay cut for posting a comment on his personal Facebook page saying same-sex weddings in church would be “an equality too far”.
She added that gay rights legislation, and a refusal to allow dissent from it, has led to the closure of adoption agencies, and obstacles being put in the way of Christians becoming B&B owners, adoptive or foster parents, and even bakers.
She concluded that Christians should not “sleepwalk through this”, or they risk seeing more of their civil liberties gradually removed.
Last month, Ashers bakery lost its appeal after the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ruled that it had discriminated against gay rights activist Gareth Lee by refusing to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage.
Writing after the controversial ruling, Widdecombe wrote that her “spirits sank to the bottom of the ocean” when she read the result.
Ann Widdecombe is a Member of the Bow Group and former Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald