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A Christian couple who own a hotel in Liverpool are awaiting trial on charges of breaching public order laws in a dispute with a Muslim guest earlier this year, British media reported.
The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph said Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who are members of an evangelical congregation, were arrested and charged in July for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’ that were ‘religiously aggravated.’
The dispute occurred in March, when the unnamed guest came down to breakfast wearing traditional Muslim headdress. A heated religious discussion followed, in which Ben Vogelenzang reportedly called the Prophet Muhammad a “warlord,” and his spouse described Muslim female clothing as “bondage.”
The Daily Mail quoted a source close to the couple as saying: “They wouldn’t have said anything offensive. They are very mild-mannered people.” Several local church leaders have called for the charges against the couple to be dropped.
If convicted, the couple face a fine of up to 5,000 pounds ($8,000) and a criminal record.
The couple, who are in their mid-fifties and have run the hotel for six years, have seen bookings drop by 80% since the incident, forcing them to put the business up for sale.
Mike Judge, a spokesman for the Christian Institute independent lobby group, which is supporting the couple, was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: “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.”
“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.”