Christian hoteliers charged after argument with Muslim guest

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The Independent Online

A pair of Christian hoteliers who argued with a Muslim guest have been charged with a racist offence.









The couple, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, run the Bounty House Hotel but claim takings are 80 per cent down because of the row, which has forced them to sell the business.



Trouble started at the hotel in Aintree, Merseyside, over breakfast one morning in March.



The unnamed guest, who was staying at the hotel while being treated at a nearby hospital, came down to breakfast wearing a hijab - the traditional Muslim head-dress.



The couple had never seen her wear the religious clothing before and a discussion ensued.



It is alleged Dutch-born Mr Vogelenzang said Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was a warlord.



He denies the claims.



It is also claimed that Mrs Vogelenzang, 54, who has run the hotel with her husband for six years, described the hijab as a form of bondage.



The guest complained to police and the couple were charged under the 1986 Public Order Act - with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" which were "religiously aggravated".



They will stand trial at Liverpool Magistrates' Court on 8 December.



The Vogelenzangs were unavailable for comment but are being backed by The Christian Institute.



Spokesman Mike Judge said: "Important issues of religious liberty and free speech are at stake.



"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.



"Nobody was being threatened and while the Vogelenzangs were fully aware that a robust exchange had taken place and the woman had been perhaps a little offended, they were shocked when the police became involved.



"We feel their treatment has been heavy-handed and it is not in the public interest to go ahead with this prosecution.



"People see the police standing by when Muslims demonstrate holding some pretty bloodthirsty placards, but at the same time come down hard on two Christians having a debate over breakfast at a hotel.



"We are just hoping the magistrates use their common sense and find them not guilty."



He added the couple were "absolutely distressed by it".