Christians and innkeepers

Why hotels should not discriminate.

Two Christians are to appeal for the right to turn couples away from inns. It is reported that in making this appeal they are being supported by the Christian Institute.

On one level this is all quite bizarre. One would perhaps expect Christians to be rather less judgemental, in accordance with the recorded liberal and inclusive teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, he was welcoming to sex workers and even tax collectors. But, then again, how the many Christians who believe Mary being impregnated by a "god" is somehow more normal than gay sex has always been quite beyond me.

However, the contentions of the hoteliers in this case are troubling regardless of any seeming conflict between homosexuality and a distorted form of Christianity. Indeed, there is a very basic legal principle at stake.

It is a great and ancient English legal tradition that any hotel is in principle open to any guest. Inns, like toll bridges and ferries, should be open to all comers who are able to pay their way.

As a legal tradition, this predates the Victorian legal invention of extreme freedom of contract doctrine. It was simply not open to the innkeeper, the tollhouse, or the ferryman to refuse to enter into a contract on a whim. There was always a greater public interest than selfish contractual autonomy.

This area of law, aspects of which are called "common carriage", is still highly relevant today. Modern telecommunications and utilities law is to a large extent premised on such rules of "common carriage". It also informs the ongoing debates on net neutrality.

The duties that one owes to strangers are central to any developed system of law, as they are to any sensible system of ethics. In both legal and ethical contexts, there is long tradition of valuing the hospitality to be given to travellers and guests.

So it is saddening that some followers of the very religion that gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan appear now to be completely unaware of this.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.