Written by Paul Coleman, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom at its office in Vienna, Austria.
Religious Liberty is in peril worldwide. This blog post, the second in a series of commentaries, illustrates the increasing marginalization of Christianity in Europe. The remaining commentaries will be published over the course of the next few weeks.
Private conversations between citizens can become the grounds of a criminal complaint in many European countries. A couple of years ago, British hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who are Christians, were charged with the criminal offense of using “insulting words” after a Muslim guest complained about their breakfast conversation on the merits of their respective faiths. The guest complained to the police, and after a yearlong investigation that brought the family-run business to its knees, the case eventually reached the courtroom.
One senior prosecutor and two high-ranking police officers appeared to testify against the Vogelenzangs. Behind them sat a team of six officers from the specialist “hate crime unit” who had been assigned to the case. The Vogelenzangs were supported by a Christian charity that covered all of their legal fees.
Although the hotel owners were eventually acquitted, the investigation and trial ultimately destroyed their business, as one of its main customers, a local hospital that used the guesthouse for patients, withdrew its business and never returned. Sharon Vogelenzang explained that “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 increasing marginalization of the Church throughout the world should be concerning to all Christians. We must stand firm against the subtle, and not so subtle, attacks on our faith. If you, or your church, experience censorship, punishment, or unlawful regulation for speaking, acting, or ministering in accordance with Biblical principles, please contact Alliance Defending Freedom. Perhaps we can provide the legal assistance you need to live out your faith and keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel.
This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner on Feb. 15, 2013