Christian Hoteliers Charged With Insulting Muslim Guest
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones
Religious Affairs Correspondent
Published: 9:30PM BST 19 Sep 2009
A Christian couple who run a hotel have been charged with a criminal offence for allegedly insulting a female Muslim guest about her beliefs.
Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang are charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act ““ causing harassment, alarm or distress. If convicted, they face fines of , £2,500 each and a criminal record.
The Muslim woman was staying at the Bounty House Hotel in Liverpool, which is run by the Vogelenzangs, when a conversation arose between the hoteliers and their guest about her faith.
It is understood that among the topics debated was whether Jesus was a minor prophet, as Islam teaches, or whether he was the Son of God, as Christianity teaches.
Among the things Mr Vogelenzang, 53, is alleged to have said is that Mohammad was a warlord. His wife, 54, is said to have stated that Muslim dress is a form of bondage for women.
The conversation, on March 20, was reported by the woman to Merseyside Police. Officers told the couple that they wanted to interview them over the incident.
After being questioned on April 20, they were interrogated again three months later before being charged on July 29 with a religiously-aggravated public order offence. They appeared in court on August 14 and are now awaiting trial.
Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang do not accept that they were threatening or abusive in any way. David White, who is representing them, said that they believe they have the right to defend their religious beliefs.
Their case is being funded by the Christian Institute, which has backed a number of Christians in legal disputes.
A spokesman for the Institute said: “We are funding Ben and Sharon’s defence because we believe important issues of religious liberty and free speech are at stake.
“In many instances we have detected a worrying tendency for public bodies to misapply the law in a way that seems to sideline Christianity more than other faiths.”
A police spokesman said: “Merseyside Police can confirm that Benjamin Vogelenzang and Sharon Vogelenzang, both of Fazakerley, were charged with a eligiously-aggravated public order offence on 29 July 2009. This follows an incident on 20 March 2009.”
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