Xtian Belfast Pastor on Trial for Offending Islam
- Pastor McConnell’s prosecution is one of a growing number of examples in which British authorities — who routinely ignore incendiary speech by Muslim extremists — are using hate speech laws to silence Christians.
- “I think this is an important issue of freedom of speech. I believe a prosecution like this introduces a chill factor into society where people feel that if they speak out on something that they believe passionately they could end up being dragged through the courts.” — Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson.
- “The police tried to shut me up and tell me what to preach… They have the right to say what they believe in and I have a right to say what I believe… I have no regrets about what I said. I do not hate Muslims, but I denounce Islam as a doctrine and I make no apologies for that… My church funds medical care for 1,200 Muslim children in Kenya and Ethiopia…I’ve no hatred in my heart for Muslims, but I won’t be stopped from preaching against Islam.” — Pastor James McConnell.
- “James McConnell didn’t incite hatred or encourage violence against any Muslim…H e simply expressed his views about another religion. Freedom of speech should mean that he has every right to lambast Islam, as Islamic clerics have to lambast him and Christianity if they so choose. Those who disagree with Pastor McConnell should challenge him and attempt to win the debate, rather than close it down… Freedom of speech isn’t only for polite persons of mild disposition airing their views within government-policed parameters. It’s about letting awkward, insulting and even offensive voices be heard too. And yet the silence from civil liberties and human rights organisations here has been deafening. In any democracy worth its salt, freedom of speech isn’t a luxury for your friends, it’s a necessity for your enemies. Defending Pastor McConnell’s right to say what he said doesn’t mean approving or embracing his sentiments.” — Suzanne Breen, an atheist journalist, Belfast Telegraph.
- “Islam is allowed to come to this country, Islam is allowed to worship in this country, Islam is allowed to preach in this country and they preach hate…. We are persecuted in Islam if we stand for Jesus Christ.” — Pastor James McConnell.
An evangelical Christian pastor in Northern Ireland has made his first court appearance after he was charged with making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam.
James McConnell, 78, appeared at Laganside Magistrates Court in Belfast on August 6, after local Muslims complained that he delivered a sermon in which he described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic.”
According to Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS), McConnell — whose sermon was streamed live on the Internet — violated the 2003 Communications Act by “sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”
Pastor McConnell’s prosecution is one of a growing number of examples in which British authorities — who routinely ignore incendiary speech by Muslim extremists — are using hate speech laws to silence Christians.
In what was described as an “extraordinary morning,” more than 1,000 people appeared outside the courthouse singing hymns and waving placards — declaring “Christianity under persecution” and “Evil Sharia law is not welcome in our country” — in a mass show of solidarity for McConnell, who was cheered and applauded as he entered and exited the courthouse.
Inside the courtroom, McConnell’s defense attorney, Joe Rice, told District Judge Amanda Henderson that his client was “strenuously” contesting the case. Rice said:
“We are pleading not guilty. Very candidly not guilty. 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 personalized manner but in a generalized way.
“He believes in the freedom of speech — he’s a member of the clergy in Northern Ireland. He has every right to criticize Islam, as Islamic clerics have the right to entice him. This is a principled stance that the pastor has taken. This is not the PPS’s finest hour, this case.”
Rice called for the case to be moved to a larger courtroom:
“There are approximately 1,000 people here. Pastor McConnell is a revered pastor in the Greater Belfast area. He has family. He has friends. He has members of his congregation who want to hear this case.”
Rice also told the judge that the defense team intended to lodge an abuse of process application to have the case thrown out of court.
The entire hearing lasted less than ten minutes. As he left the courthouse, McConnell addressed his supporters amid loud cheers and applause. He said:
“They were nervous in that court, very nervous. I thank God for my solicitor who presented a brilliant case. I will not go back on what I preached. I am not guilty.
“I want to be exonerated, I want to be acquitted, I want to be rid of all this. But when I am rid of all this I will be back preaching the same.
“They are spending thousands. They are running about that court like headless chickens, it is ridiculous, it is stupid. What is wrong with this country? I do not hate anybody.”
“Even from atheists, even from people who don’t go to church. They say this is ridiculous, and it is ridiculous, it is absolutely stupid.”
Among those who turned out to show their support were Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson and his DUP colleague William Humphrey. Wilson, a longstanding member of McConnell’s church, said:
“I think this is an important issue of freedom of speech. I believe a prosecution like this introduces a chill factor into society where people feel that if they speak out on something that they believe passionately they could end up being dragged through the courts.”
“People should have the right to express what they believe without fear of prosecution. Here’s a man who passionately believes something, who says what he believes and who has been prosecuted for it because there is a narrow, politically correct Taliban who want to corral us all into thinking, saying, speaking as they believe we should. If we allow that to happen then I think we’ll be a poorer society.”
McConnell, who turned down an offer to avoid a trial, said the issue of Christians being singled out for persecution in Britain today must be confronted and that he intends to turn his case into a milestone trial “in defense of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”
The controversy began on the evening of Sunday, May 18, 2014, when McConnell, the founding pastor of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, an evangelical mega-church in northern Belfast, preached a sermon on a foundational verse of the Christian Bible, 1 Timothy 2:5, which states: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Preaching with an oratorical flourish common to traditional Protestantism, McConnell said (sermon begins at 22m40s) that it is impossible that the God of the Hebrew and Christian Bible is the Allah of the Koran. He said:
“The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Mohammed, was born in 570. But Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion, dating back to Adam, and that the biblical Patriarchs were all Muslims, including Noah and Abraham and Moses, and even our Lord Jesus Christ.
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