Sunday 26 February 2017

I would preach sermon again - pastor cleared of Muslim hate speech

Lesley-Anne McKeown and David Young

Pastor James McConnell
Pastor James McConnell

A preacher accused of making grossly offensive remarks about Muslims insisted "I wasn't out to hurt anyone" as he was cleared by a Belfast court.

Pastor James McConnell (78) walked free from Belfast Magistrates' Court, where he had faced a prosecution under the 2003 Communications Act.

Mr McConnell said he would preach the sermon again, though word it differently.

"The only regret I have is the response from the Muslim community - that I was out to hurt them," he said. "There was no way I was out to hurt them - I wouldn't hurt a hair on their head.

"But what I am against is their theology and what they believe in."

Clearing Mr McConnell, District Judge Liam McNally said: "The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive.

"It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances.

"Accordingly, I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges."

The sermon delivered from the pulpit of his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 18, 2014, was streamed online. The high-profile pastor, from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, had been charged with two alleged offences - improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.

In the sermon, he described Islam as a "doctrine spawned in hell" and said he did not trust Muslims.

Comments about Islam being "heathen" and "satanic" were ruled to be protected under human rights legislation.

When considering the remarks about mistrusting Muslims, Judge McNally said he was satisfied the pastor had not set out to intentionally cause offence.

As the judge concluded, a crowd of about 50 Christian supporters erupted into applause. The acquittal was hailed by the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Irish Independent

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