23 September 2009

Shades of the CHRC - Thought Police

Shades of the CHRC - Thought Police

Lorne Gunter: Keep the state out of our bed and breakfasts - Full Comment

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Lorne Gunter: Keep the state out of our bed and breakfasts
Posted: September 23, 2009, 8:30 AM by Chris Selley

One morning last March, a guest at Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang's small Bounty House hotel near Liverpool, England, came down to breakfast wearing a hijab. This surprised the Vogelenzangs, since the woman, who was receiving treatment at a nearby hospital, had been with them several days and had not before worn the traditional headscarf of Muslim women.

A debate ensued among the trio during which the guest allegedly insisted Jesus was just a minor prophet, to which Mr. Vogelenzang is alleged to have responded that Mohammad was a warlord. The guest's complaint to police also claims Mrs. Vogelenzang described the hijab as a form of bondage.

Police questioned the Vogelenzangs in April and again in July. Following this second visit, they charged the couple with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" which were "religiously aggravated."

They are to stand trial in December and if convicted will have criminal records and could face fines of up to $2,500 each.

The Vogelenzangs claim already to have lost their business as a result of the clash. The hospital at which the woman was being treated had referred her and many other guests to the Bounty House. But after the hospital learned of the woman's complaint, they stopped recommending the guest house. Bookings dropped by 80% and the couple say they have had to sell.

They have apparently lost their livelihood and face criminal charges for sticking up for their beliefs. In a free country, such consequences are unbelievable.

But political correctness, backed by human rights commissions and hate-crime laws, have given crusading bureaucrats, activist special interest groups and aggressive minorities powerful weapons to use against those they accuse of offending them -- in this case, a middle-aged couple with a large bed and breakfast.

It is probably bad business to argue with customers over faith (although the Vogelenzangs insist they never aggressively pushed their points, but merely countered claims they believed were fallacious). And

entrepreneurs who engage in behaviours likely to give offence to customers can expect to lose some clientele.

I once met a Jewish baker from London, Ont., who was so opposed to Islam that he made it a habit to tell Muslims customers he thought their faith was a sham. Most Muslims stopped frequenting his shop (although a few came more often for the lively exchanges). He knew this practice would cost him business, but he was prepared to suffer the consequences of his convictions.

But would my baker acquaintance have done the same had he known the whole weight of state-enforced political correctness could have been brought down around his head?

The Vogelenzangs are twice victims of the machinery of the state, once through the charges laid against them for exercising their free speech and the second time for losing the referrals of a state-funded hospital and through that losing their business.

Unlike the London baker who lost customers one at a time as they themselves exercised their own right to conduct business with whomever they chose, the Vogelenzangs lost four-fifths of their business overnight because public hospital administrators decided to punish them economically for their political incorrectness. Would these same administrators have withheld referrals to Muslims hoteliers who similarly defended their faith with guests? It's hard to know, but it seems unlikely.

Muslims routinely demonstrate in Britain while displaying the most heinous placards urging death on anyone who defames their religion or prophet and are never charged with offending mainstream British society.

Government has no right, none at all, to regulate what free people may say to one another about faith, politics or other beliefs. There are personal consequences for what we say and those should be the limits of what any of us has to endure.

Yet agents of the modern state believe themselves empowered to regulate free speech all the time, in Canada every bit as much as Britain.

In Saskatchewan, human rights apparatchiks have ruled parts of the Bible are hate speech. In Alberta, a pastor has been ordered to apologize for expressing views against homosexuality and ordered by the Alberta Human Rights Commission never to utter those views in public again.

If ordinary citizens don't demand of their politicians that they disband the political correctness inquisitions, there will soon be Canadian versions of the Vogelenzangs -- people who are criminally charged for stating their beliefs.

National Post

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