Preacher in court for calling Islam 'satanic'
Legal action against an evangelical preacher who branded Islam "satanic" is among the most bizarre cases to come to court, a judge has heard.
Pastor James McConnell appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court charged with two offences connected to a controversial sermon last year.
The 78-year-old, from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act after remarks made in Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast were streamed online.
Defence solicitor Joe Rice told the judge his client was strenuously contesting the case.
"We are pleading not guilty. Very candidly not guilty."
Up to 1,000 people with banners and placards turned out to support Pastor McConnell.
The elderly preacher did not enter the dock for the brief hearing. Instead, he sat in the public gallery behind his wife Margaret, supported by friends and other family members.
The judge was told that the defence team intended to lodge an abuse of process application in order to have the case thrown out of court.
Mr Rice added: "This is one of the most bizarre and peculiar cases I have ever seen before the court. The pastor has waited a long time for this to come to court. He did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims.
"He expressed views about another religion - not in a personalised manner but in a generalised way."
Among those who turned out to show their support were Democratic Unionist MP Sammy Wilson and his DUP colleague William Humphrey.
The case has been adjourned until September 3.