‘Pastor who called Islam satanic has right to free speech’ – Muslim academic
In May last year, Pastor James McConnell, 78, made Islamophobic remarks in a controversial 45-minute sermon at his church in Newtonabbey, County Antrim.
When addressing his congregation, he said a “new evil” had arisen, adding there are “cells of Muslims right throughout Britain,” Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard on Monday.
He then described the religion as “heathen” and said he does not trust Muslims.
McConnell sparked outrage among the Muslim community, with critics describing his comments as “inflammatory language.”
The pastor is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act and faces two charges, one of improper use of a public electronic communications network, and one of causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network, as his service was streamed online.
In an interview with BBC News, McConnell was “unrepentant” about his comments, the court heard.
Speaking outside the court, Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute said he is defending the pastor’s rights to critique religious beliefs.
“This is possibly one of the most important things at our juncture in history; it could be the make or break for the continued survival of our planet actually,” he told the Guardian.
“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is therefore a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.
“Moreover, in a free and democratic society, we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”
If McConnell is found guilty, he could face up to six months in prison or a fine.
The trail is expected to last three days.