Christian hotel owners hauled before court after defending their beliefs in discussion with Muslim guest , By Jonathan Petre, London Daily Mail, September 20, 2009
A Christian couple have been charged with a criminal offence after taking part in what they regarded as a reasonable discussion about religion with guests at their hotel.
Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were arrested after a Muslim woman complained to police that she had been offended by their comments.
They have been charged under public order laws with using â€?threatening, abusive or insulting wordsâ€™ that were â€?religiously aggravatedâ€™.
This of course is not what the public order acts were supposed to do:
The use by the police of the Public Order Act to arrest people over offensive comments has dismayed a number of lawyers, who say the legislation was passed to deal with law and order problems in the streets.
Neil Addison, a prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law, said: â€?The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but Iâ€™m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.
â€?It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed.
â€?If someone is in a discussion and they donâ€™t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.â€™ He added that the police had a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech â€?and I think they are forgetting thatâ€™.
In other words, the law is being interpreted expansively, which is why this sort of law is so dangerous..
In effect, the law enforcement bureaucracy has already punished the Vogelenzangs:
Mrs Vogelenzang, 54, who has run the Bounty House Hotel near Aintree racecourse in Liverpool with her husband Ben, 53, for six years, said: â€?Nothing like this has happened to us before. We are completely shocked.â€™
She added that the episode had damaged their business and they had been forced to lay off staff and run the nine-bedroom hotel by themselves, leaving them exhausted.
The couple, whose trial has been set for December, face a fine of up to Â?5,000 and a criminal record if they are convicted.
n.b this alleged offense occurred in March, so the Vogelzangs will have been tortured for the bulk of the year.