Irish preacher found not guilty in 'satanic Islam' case
Judge: "It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances."
Published 05/01/2016 | 11:48
Pastor James McConnell has been cleared of charges linked to a controversial anti-Islamic sermon.
The 78-year-old had been accused of two offences linked to an address delivered at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in May 2014.
The evangelical preacher walked free from court today after he was found not guilty on both counts by a judge in Belfast.
There was applause at Belfast Magistrates Court as the verdict was delivered.
Pastor McConnell smiled before walking over to shake hands with his defence lawyers.
District judge Liam McNally said: "The courts need to be very careful not to criticise 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."
Pastor McConnell, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, had faced two charges linked to the sermon delivered from the pulpit of his North Belfast church on May 18 2014.
He was charged under the Communications Act 2003.
Pastor McConnell was accused of 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 internet-broadcast sermon the preacher described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic" and "a doctrine spawned in hell”.
He also said he did not trust Muslims.
Pastor McConnell later apologised following a public outcry.
He was questioned by police at the time, however, last June it emerged he would be prosecuted.
The three-day trial took place last month.
A prosecution lawyer had argued Pastor McConnell’s comments were not "a slip of the tongue”.
He said the pastor was "not on trial for his beliefs", but for what he said and using words that were allegedly grossly offensive.
However, a defence lawyer said the case essentially revolved around five words in an hour-long religious service.
He said the pastor was a man with an unblemished record who should be recognised for his good work in society, not convicted in court.
Judgement had been reserved until today.