Monday, November 10, 2014
The real victims of bigotry: A family of bakers dragged to court and how opponents of gay marriage are being persecuted - even though the Tories vowed to protect them
By Andrew Pierce
When the Bill to legalise gay marriage was debated by MPs, the then Tory Cabinet minister Maria Miller insisted that anybody who opposed the plan to change the centuries-old definition of marriage would not be subjected to any discrimination.
She pledged: ‘The Government is clear that the Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or outside, from expressing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
'In no way will the measure undermine those who believe, for whatever reason, that marriage should be between a man and a woman. That is their right.’
Sadly, this claim by the hapless Ms Miller was almost as inaccurate as her parliamentary expenses - which led to her resignation as Culture Secretary.
For, despite gay marriage becoming legal, the Government’s vow that there would be no discrimination against those who opposed it on moral grounds has turned out just like so many other empty promises made by politicians.
Take, for example, the owners of a small bakery, Ashers, who have fallen foul of the new law, which was intended to boost equality, but which, ironically, has fostered resentment and hostility.
Their crime? The McArthur family, devout Presbyterians who own the company, refused to bake a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.
The cake was to be the focus of a civic event in Belfast, staged by the gay rights pressure group Queerspace to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The well-known beliefs of the McArthurs in the area must lead to questions about why the Queerspace activist who ordered the cake chose the bakery in the first place.
Religion is very important to the family. The bakery takes its name, Asher, from one of Jacob’s 12 sons who feature in the Book of Genesis.
The request for the cake came with specific instructions: it was to contain images of Bert and Ernie (characters from the children’s TV show Sesame Street who have long been presumed to be gay), the logo of Queerspace and the slogan: Support Gay Marriage.
After the order was rejected, Queerspace could have gone to another supplier and if it still felt offended, it could have urged its supporters to boycott Ashers.
But, instead, a complaint was lodged with the taxpayer-funded Equalities Commission, Northern Ireland.
This body, set up by the last Labour government under its controversial human rights legislation, decided to proceed with the case and sue the bakery for discrimination, on the grounds of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘political belief’.
The decision has triggered disbelief across the political spectrum, not least because Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where politicians have voted not to introduce gay marriage.
But the commission, which has an annual budget of £6.5 million and employs 110 people, is proud of its support of same-sex marriage.
On its website, it says: ‘The commission supports the introduction of legislation permitting same-sex marriage with sufficient safeguards for religious organisations.’
But what about the human rights of people who, for strong moral reasons or based on their faith, need protection?
Indeed, Ashers bakery, struggling to make an honest living like so many other small firms, is not alone.
Another firm, in Armagh, run by Nick Williamson, a committed Christian, was similarly threatened with legal action by the commission after he turned down an order to produce a glossy gay magazine.
Let’s be clear about the Ashers’ case. The company did not refuse to take the cake order because the customer was gay.
It rejected the order (during a private telephone conversation so as to prevent any embarrassment) because the bakery staff felt the message on the cake promoted a cause which was against the deeply-held views not just of the family-owner but also of countless other Christians.
The commission’s commissars are now - with the tacit blessing of government ministers who have conspicuously failed to intervene - threatening the firm with legal action unless they pay compensation and apologise.
It’s almost as if they are determined to make the McArthurs martyrs. But then logic, common sense and morality fly out of the window when the Thought Police and political correctness become involved.
So, who are these commissioners who have decided they know best?
Interestingly, one of the three commissioners behind the legal action is Liam Maskey, a member of a prominent family of Belfast republicans who are dedicated supporters of Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams.
Funny that the niceties of political correctness didn’t bother a party associated with the Armalite and countless killings during the Irish terror days.
Maskey’s younger brother, Paul, is Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast. The party is a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage. Another brother, Alex Maskey, the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast, spent two years in internment in the Seventies. You couldn’t make it up.
The bakery’s manager, Daniel McArthur, says he’s now received a letter from the commission saying if it does not offer compensation within seven days, it faces litigation.
However, he is insistent his family should not be penalised for refusing to promote a cause that goes against their conscientious view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
I met Daniel and his family in the summer when the complaint was originally lodged. I was struck by their quiet, modest and unassuming manner. They are anything but extremists.
Despite the provocation, Daniel, 24, who runs the company with his parents Colin and Karen, maintained his composure, though he believes his family is being ‘picked on by the commission which is making us a political showcase’.
He said: ‘We serve customers whatever their sexual orientation or religious beliefs. But regarding gay marriage, this is not a choice for us.’
Many others have had their lives disgracefully turned upside down by publicly opposing gay marriage.
Last year, Brian Ross, 68, a former Church of Scotland minister and RE teacher from Motherwell, claims he was sacked as a volunteer chaplain to Strathclyde Police because he breached the force’s diversity policies.
His crime? Writing, in a blog, that David Cameron had acted without an electoral mandate by changing what he called the ‘God-ordained institution of marriage as between a man and a woman’.
Many others have had their lives disgracefully turned upside down by publicly opposing gay marriage
But he was speaking the truth because the Tories had not put in their election manifesto a promise to legalise same-sex marriage.
Then there was the shocking case of Adrian Smith, who posted on his private Facebook site the comment that gay weddings in churches were an equality too far.
After it was drawn to the attention of the longtime Labour voter’s bosses at Trafford Housing Trust by a colleague, his salary was cut by 40 per cent and he was given a written warning.
Challenging the decision that he had broken a code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers, he won his case in the High Court and was awarded a small sum in recompense for lost income.
And last Saturday, the Mail revealed that Bryan Berkley, 71, a retired civil engineer, has been banned from doing volunteer work for the British Red Cross after almost 20 years’ selfless service.
On the same day that he represented the charity at a Buckingham Palace garden party, he received a letter from the organisation summoning him to a disciplinary meeting.
It transpired staff had noticed photos of him in the local newspaper and gay press protesting with a ‘No to gay marriage’ placard outside Wakefield Cathedral - although no reference was made to his Red Cross work. His views, he was told, breached the charity’s principles of ‘neutrality and impartiality’, and so he was sacked.
Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe is so outraged she has written to the Red Cross, saying she refuses to support it in future.
As a gay man in a civil partnership, I was often heckled and abused for opposing gay same-sex marriage.
I regard the law as a cynical political stunt by David Cameron in his misguided attempts to detoxify the Conservative brand and win new voters. He failed miserably - alienating countless core loyalists.
At the time the Bill was being debated in the Commons, I argued it could trigger a backlash against gay men and women if it was used to discriminate against those with strong views about why same-sex marriages are wrong.
The public was given repeated assurances that freedom of conscience would be respected if the law on marriage was changed. Those promises seem pretty hollow now.
UK: The Left sneered. But these poppies reconnect us to a generation of heroes we never knew, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
The last time a crowd this huge stood here in total silence, they had come to see the Jacobite rebel, Lord Lovat, lose his head.
There were no stewards in hi-viz jackets back in 1747. In fact, 20 spectators died when a grandstand collapsed ahead of what would be the last public execution on Tower Hill.
The atmosphere’s entirely different today but there is unquestionably the same sense of history, the same formidable symbol of Crown authority, the sombre multitude staring intently, the sea of red...
For what started out as an eccentric artistic exercise just three months ago, is now something truly historic. It’s not just that millions of people from all around the world have turned up to marvel at a work of modern art which can reduce grown men to tears, or that the leaders of all the main parties are in agreement about something — they all want next week’s scheduled poppy harvest to be postponed.
The Tower of London’s 2014 poppy installation is no longer just a tribute to each one of the 888,246 British and colonial troops who died in the Great War.
It’s become a monument to the way the British view themselves: dutiful, patient, original, compassionate and mindful of the past without being rooted in it.
And whatever happens to these poppies, an important public space which has sat largely empty since the days of William the Conqueror is now destined to be a national commemorative focal point for the foreseeable future.
This dazzling ceramic display has become the perfect riposte to today’s vapid, tokenistic, ‘me, me, me’ mindset, typified by those fatuous feminist T-shirts which public figures must wear for fear of being labelled sexist.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has not yet found time to visit the poppies, but he has felt obliged to pose for the cameras in a T-shirt saying: ‘This is what a feminist looks like’, and also gormlessly chop carrots on a day-time TV cookery slot.
No one is obliging anyone to visit the Tower of London. And there is no snappy catchphrase attached to these poppies.
But their unspoken message hits you like a sledgehammer the moment you clap eyes on the vermilion tide: ‘This is what a lost generation looks like.’
It was little more than a year ago that the ceramic artist, Paul Cummins, had the idea of crafting a clay poppy for every fallen soldier, planting the whole lot at the Tower of London and then selling them for charity.
He called it Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, words written on the will of a soldier from his native Derbyshire who died in Flanders. But, first, he had to convince the Tower.
Some public organisations would probably still be holding committee meetings one year later, chewing over the health and safety implications. But the Tower authorities — a purposeful mix of distinguished old soldiers and hard-headed tourism experts — quickly grasped the idea.
The award-winning theatrical designer, Tom Piper, was recruited to bring the vision to life. A factory was set up in Derby and 50 unemployed locals hired to make the poppies, while two specialist potteries, in Warwickshire and Stoke, were also invited to help.
Rebuffed in his attempts to raise any support from Government and the usual arts bodies (how silly they look now), Paul Cummins had to take out a £1 million high-interest loan just to bring his idea to life.
He has certainly suffered for his art. Early on, he lost a middle finger rolling out a new batch of poppies.
Neither he nor anyone else envisaged quite how this would turn out when the first poppy was planted last July by Yeoman Sergeant Crawford Butler.
The number of spectators has now soared past that much-quoted original estimate of four million. Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which runs the Tower (without a bean from the taxpayer), has already spent £120,000 on stewards and safety hoardings to manage the thousands who keep pouring forth from Tower Hill Underground station.
But it is not just the crowds along the walls which have been remarkable. There is an equally impressive human story in the moat.
For this project has now attracted some 30,000 volunteers. That is almost half the number for the entire 2012 London Olympics. And they are vital because it has required a citizen army to plant nearly a million poppies in a matter of weeks. Another one will be needed in the weeks ahead to uproot them all and send the same poppies on their way to the people who have paid £25 for each one.
I turn up to find an afternoon shift of 200 volunteers putting on red bibs for a three-hour stint in a corner of the Eastern moat, the last area of grass still untouched.
Some are pensioners, some students. Ten chaps have taken a day off from the Food Standards Agency. Here, too, are half a dozen bikers in Hell’s Angels leather waistcoats. They turn out to be members of the Royal British Legion Riders Branch and have done several shifts.
‘The hardest thing is getting the bits on the rods,’ explains former Private Claire Thompson, 41, from Uxbridge. ‘Last time, I had blisters for weeks!’
For these poppies do not come ready-made. As every person who has bought one is about to discover, they actually come in six pieces — a hand-crafted, scarlet-glazed head (made of two folds of clay), a 440mm steel rod, two rubber washers and two plastic ‘spacers’ which protect the clay from the steel and hold the head in place.
The poppy must then be gently hammered in to the grass. When the display comes down, each one will be dismantled for safe delivery. The new owners must then reassemble them (an instruction manual is included with the certificate of authenticity).
‘It’s funny to think that just three months ago we were thinking about advertising this,’ says Colonel John Brown, the Deputy Governor of the Tower. The main man on the ground, he spent his military career in the Royal Logistic Corps, appropriately enough.
In between briefing the volunteers, he has to handle the growing numbers of VIPs wanting a tour of the site. ‘We’ve adopted what we call an “informal visit” strategy,’ he explains.
Staff are simply too busy to arrange VIP cordons and red carpets. Just this week, requests from two overseas royal families were politely turned down because there was no way of getting their motorcades through the crowds. Among those who has made her own way down here this afternoon is the actress Joan Collins.
I drop in at poppy-planting HQ, a set of windowless store rooms beneath Tower Bridge. There’s a large map of the world on the wall. New volunteers are asked to stick a red dot on their home town, and they come from every continent. Some are from Germany. Many are from the United States.
‘We had some American Vietnam veterans who were very moved by it all,’ says Col Brown. That sniffy Guardian critic who dismissed this project as an inward-looking ‘Ukip-style memorial’ really did get it wrong.
Elsewhere, the Historic Royal Palaces staff are arranging this evening’s Roll Call, another major operation in itself. Every day since this display began, a Beefeater and a bugler appear at dusk and march out to a little mound in the middle of the poppies. They escort a guest who will read out 180 names from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s register of the dead.
Anyone can propose a name online. But each one must be checked against the Commission’s database to ensure that they are bona fide and that they have not already been included.
Then an email is despatched to the person who sent in the nomination, alerting them to the date and time when the name will be read out.
Every night, entire families have been turning up to hear a great-grandfather or great-uncle being honoured. Earlier this week, one Roll Call included the entire list of war dead from Clare College, Cambridge. A century on, many are finding it a profoundly moving experience.
‘We get very emotional thank-you messages from all over the world,’ says Melanie McCarthy of the Tower’s IT department. ‘They all like to tell us the story of their loved one and how proud they are.’ Tomorrow night’s Roll Call, for example, will include names off the war memorials in the Yorkshire villages of Conisbrough and Denaby. Many proud villagers are making the long journey to London just to hear these gallant long-lost Yorkshire lads being acknowledged — and on Remembrance Sunday, too. They will remember it for the rest of their lives.
Any Allied soldier can be nominated, not just the Brits. Many of the names are from Canadian, Australian and Kiwi units. The Tower films every ceremony and puts it all on the website. The Roll Call lasts around 20 minutes but it feels longer as this remorseless litany of sacrifice goes on and on.
It’s only a tiny fraction, of course. If you actually tried to read out the name of every dead soldier from Britain alone and worked around the clock, you would still be going strong three months later.
It’s humbling for everyone. Dame Helen Mirren is no stranger to the big occasion. When she stood among the poppies to read the names a few weeks ago, even her crisp delivery faltered now and then.
Many passers-by have no idea that this beautiful, newly fabricated ‘ritual’ takes place every night. Some are soon in tears. At 4.55pm, the floodlights on the moat are dimmed and a spotlight picks out the little mound. The crowds, vast as ever, shuffle to a standstill. Not a single mobile phone goes off. Down in the moat, I bump in to the Constable of the Tower, General Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, who championed the poppy idea at the very start.
As usual, he and Lady Dannatt have brought a few special guests to watch the ceremony. This evening’s contingent include a group of badly wounded Afghanistan veterans and Victoria Maclennan, aged nine, from Fair Oak Junior School in Hampshire, who has asked to interview the man in charge of the Tower for her school magazine. They are all bowled over.
‘This means a lot, I can tell you, says Martyn Compton, 30, of East Sussex, a former Household Cavalry Lance Corporal who knows more than most about serving one’s country. He suffered 75 per cent burns and was shot twice in Afghanistan in 2006.
Lord Dannatt tells me that he can pinpoint the exact moment when this whole adventure suddenly took off. ‘It was October 16, as the Queen walked through the early poppies in the moat,’ he says. ‘Suddenly, that image went viral round the world. People understood why there were a specific number of poppies and that there was a finite opportunity to see them. ‘Four days later, every single poppy had been sold.’
Like the rest of the population, he is now kicking himself. ‘I did buy one at the start and meant to get some more,’ he laughs. ‘But when I got round to it, they’d all gone!’
Once tonight’s names have been read out, the bugler marches on to the mound and plays the Last Post. There is a terrific flash of mobile phone cameras and polite applause at the end. Then the crowds shuffle on and thousands more come pouring out of the Tube station.
Quite apart from the growing debate about extending this display, there is another question: what next? There have already been several suggestions for 2018. But it won’t be like this. ‘
It’s been overwhelming — in a very nice way,’ says the artist, Paul Cummins. ‘But you won’t see me doing any more ceramic poppies in the moat.’
Having been down here several times, I am reminded of John F Kennedy’s old adage that ‘victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan’.
The organisers are too diplomatic to say so in public, but when all this started, they wondered if help might be forthcoming from the Government’s special £65 million pot for Great War commemorations. Nothing doing, said the officials.
Similarly, the arts establishment, which chucks millions at pointless tat providing it ticks the relevant politically correct boxes, failed to see the point of this. Shame on them all. Particularly as it’s been such an expensive business setting up a production line, a workforce, a call centre, a website and so on.
The primary purpose, of course, was to produce a work of art rather than conduct a fund-raising exercise. Yet the costs have been covered, the artists have waived any profits and at least 40 per cent of every poppy will be shared between six charities.
Now that the Chancellor has scrapped much of the VAT involved (George Osborne also invited Paul Cummins round to Downing Street this week for a congratulatory cup of tea), the final sum will be just short of £10 million, a magnificent achievement.
But the greater achievement is that we have reconnected with a generation we never knew, found a new arena for national thanksgiving and, along the way, learned something about ourselves.
As for any talk of a ‘Ukip-style memorial’? It only goes to show how little the Left understands the real world.
Going Dutch - The Psychometric Tool Against Jihadism in the West
The famed laissez faire liberalism of the Dutch is only matched by their flinty commonsense. Two years after the brutal 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh at the hand of Islamist jihadists in Amsterdam, the Dutch government quietly introduced a form of personality testing for immigrants from certain backgrounds who wished to make the Netherlands their permanent abode.
By showing a set of short video clips highlighting the culture of diversity, secularism, free speech, and gender equality to potential migrants from very different cultures and then allowing responsible officers to evaluate reactions of the audience, the Dutch government made a very business-like decision to ensure a proper fit for a person to his/her new home. The government of the Netherlands continues to monitor this new screening tool which went into effect as a pilot project in 2006 and will likely be rolled out on a larger scale in the years ahead.
Immigration, especially of people with high education and in their prime working years, remains vital to the economic prowess and social welfare systems of most developed countries. That said, that necessity is better coupled with wisdom. With tens of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia moving to the Anglophone countries every year, the United States, Canada, Britain, and Australia do not have the luxury of waiting to institute large scale and focused immigrant testing that small Holland does.
While security safeguards have been heightened in all of these desired immigration destinations, the common flaw remains the same across the board in the English speaking democracies: all potential immigrants are treated to the same battery of standardized screening procedures which often evaluate the Christian fleeing victimization in Bangladesh and Pakistan along the same lines as an Islamist engineer wishing to plant the flag of Islam for himself and his children in Canada. Neither the standard questions of the type "have you ever been part of a terror group" nor the routine check of law enforcement agency reports is going to do much diagnostic good in this regard. The Dutch figured this out finally and, instead, decided to tentatively use the science of psychometrics to detect potential trouble before it becomes actual trouble.
Let us be brutally honest about immigration from countries where Muslims are in big majorities. Almost all of these countries have cultures where Salafi Islamism is ascendant, where free speech and gender equality are increasingly dismissed as parts of some Western plot, and anti-Semitism is a staple for the most popular conspiracy theories. Not all immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Malaysia, or the Arab world adhere to such Islamist tendencies. But many, including quite a few professional and educated types, do. And these are the ones that can quickly become the transmitters, organizers, sympathizers, funders, and even purveyors of jihadism in the civilized world (remember Palestinian Islamic Jihad board member Sami Al-Arian and would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad?).
In the age of shadowy ISIS sympathizers in Chicago, jihadist murderers on London streets, and Muslims converts on rampage in Ottawa, it only make sense to quarantine the Islamist virus at the entry point whether it is dormant, passive, or active. The Dutch have shown the path to do so; the rest of the civilized world should improvise.
Psychometrics is not an exact science and no psychological evaluation or personality test is fool proof. On top of such uncertainty, these things cost time and money which are realistic constraints for visa evaluators and Customs agents. Yet, these tools are increasingly sophisticated and used in human resourcing decisions by growing number of major businesses and public entities; at the disposal of well-trained immigration professionals who have the flexibility of discretion and a relatively narrow focus, such psychometric instruments can be vital weapons against potential jihadist terror.
Potential long term immigrants from certain areas should be instructed - even provocatively so - on the fundamental importance of free speech, dissent, apostasy, equality before the law regardless of religion or gender, and basic personal liberties. They should be evaluated on their reactions through well developed and professionally benchmarked tests and such evaluations should be allowed to inform an immigration official's decision to about a residency application. Indeed this kind of approach could lead to the penalization of certain beliefs; but if such beliefs include the rectitude of killing apostates and punishing women for wearing short skirts, should we be shedding too many tears? And even if we were to shed some tears at such scrutiny of those desiring to live in a pluralist society, isn't it better than the shedding of blood that could happen otherwise?
Atheists accepted as belonging to a religion
An federal district court in Oregon has declared Secular Humanism a religion, paving the way for the non-theistic community to obtain the same legal rights as groups such as Christianity. A Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty issued a ruling on American Humanist Association v. United States, a case that was brought by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and Jason Holden, a federal prisoner. Holden pushed for the lawsuit because he wanted Humanism - which the AHA defines as "an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces" - recognized as a religion so that his prison would allow for the creation of a Humanist study group.
Haggerty sided with the plaintiffs in his decision, citing existing legal precedent and arguing that denying Humanists the same rights as groups such as Christianity would be a violation of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which declares that Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
"The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes," the ruling read.
The decision highlights the unusual position of the Humanist community, which has tried for years to obtain the same legal rights as more traditional religious groups while simultaneously rebuking the existence of a god or gods. But while some Humanists may chafe at being called a "religion," others feel that the larger pursuit of equal rights trumps legal classifications.
"I really don't care if Humanism is called a religion or not," Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, told ThinkProgress. "But if you're going to give special rights to religions, then you have to give them to Humanism as well, and I think that's what this case was about."
Humanism has grown - at least in terms of organization - rapidly over the past few years, with members establishing official Humanist chaplaincies at Harvard University, American University, Columbia University, and Rutgers University. Atheists - one of the many titles for a diversity of nonreligious Americans, which includes Humanists - have also successfully fought for the right to offer invocations at government meetings: Kelly McCauley, a member of the North Alabama Freethought Association, opened a City Council meeting in Huntsville, Alabama in September with an invocation that did not mention God but extolled the virtues of "Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Moderation."
"Nonreligious people are just one of the large groups in American society today," Epstein said. "Increasingly, we need to be recognized not just for our non-belief, but also as a community, and this decision affirms that."
Despite these successes, the movement to obtain legal rights for Humanists has also encountered stiff resistance. Atheists and Humanists are disproportionately underrepresented in Congress, for instance, and the American Humanist Association is currently in a lengthy battle with the U.S. military to establish formal Humanist chaplains for nonreligious soldiers. In June, the U.S. Navy rejected the application of Jason Heap for a commission as a chaplain.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.