Christian Couple Arrested After Offending Muslim Woman

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: December 9, 2009

A Christian hotelier couple who expressed their Christian beliefs to Muslim guest during a discussion of religion were subsequently arrested for disrupting public order. Charges were later dismissed.

A Christian couple in Britain faced criminal charges for allegedly offending Muslim guest Ericka Tazi at their hotel in Aintree, Liverpool. Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were arrested after Tazi complained to police that she had been offended by comments the couple made regarding her religious beliefs during a discussion of religion in March 2009.

The couple was arrested and charged under Britain’s public order laws for using “threatening, abusive or insulting words” that were “religiously aggravated”.

Tazi, 60, claimed that the couple said Mohammad was a warlord and that the traditional Muslim dress women wear is a form of bondage. The Vogelenzangs denied that their comments were threatening and asserted that they had every right to defend and explain their beliefs.

Hugh Tomlinson, the couples’s counsel said, “The fact that someone is upset or offended is not a reason for criminalising the speech used by the other person.” The Daily Mail reported a similar comment on this case from Neil Addison, a criminal barrister and expert in religious law: ”The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.”

The Vogelenzangs faced a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record if convicted, but District Judge Richard Clancy of the Liverpool Magistrates Court, dismissed the case at trial in December 2009, questioning Mrs. Tazi’s version of events.

Even after having been cleared of all accusations, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang have been forced to put their Bounty Hotel up for auction in March 2010, because they were losing up to £8,000 per month. Mr Vogelenzang has said that he and his wife were “devastated” at losing their livelihood, even after being completely cleared. He told the Daily Mail: “Many people thought that when we won in court, everything would be OK. In reality, it has brought us to the brink of destruction, so it has not been a victory at all.”
The couple blame the court case for “80%” of its problems and is considering legal action against Merseyside police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Mr Vogelenzang explains: “The hotel was running very well, and we had a deal in place with a hospital nearby to provide accommodation for patients on a month long treatment program, but as soon as this unfounded slur was concocted the hospital stopped using the hotel and a lot of our other trade suffered badly because of the knock-on effects,” and he adds: “We have worked hard for a decade to make this what it is – and then it was taken away from us. People think it is over, but we are living with the consequences.”
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