A born-again Christian preacher in Belfast is to be prosecuted for describing Islam as “satanic” and “the spawn of the devil”.
Pastor James McConnell was accused of Islamophobia after he denounced the Muslim religion as a “heathen” faith in May 2014. He issued a public apology, but not before Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson, came under fire for initially defending him.
Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service said on Thursday that McConnell was offered an “informed warning” that would have avoided a prosecution but he declined to accept it.
A PPS spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that following consideration of a complaint in relation to an internet broadcast of a sermon in May 2014, a decision was taken to offer an individual an informed warning for an offence contrary to the Communications Act 2003.
“That offence was one of sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”
McConnell initially defended his remarks, made during a sermon at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. However following a huge public outcry he apologised for any offence or distress he had caused.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland was called in to investigate the 78-year-old fundamentalist cleric for a potential hate crime.
He later stepped down as pastor of the church he founded and handed over control to his deputy pastor, David Purse. McConnell said that he had been considering his retirement for about 18 months and that his comments about the Muslim faith had no bearing on his decision.
Robinson entered the original controversy when he said he would not trust spiritual guidance from Muslims but added that he would trust them “to go down to the shops” for him.
Robinson had to publicly apologise to the Muslim community outside the Belfast Islamic Centre in the south of the city.
Reacting to the PPS’ decision to charge him, McConnell said: “I’m not taking it lying down. I am not going to be gagged.”
He added: “The police tried to shut me up and tell me what to preach. It’s ridiculous. I believe in freedom of speech. I’m going to keep on preaching the gospel.
“I have nothing against Muslims, I have never hated Muslims, I have never hated anyone. But I am against what Muslims believe. They have the right to say what they believe in and I have a right to say what I believe.”
Source: The Guardian