James McConnell, the Christian pastor who faces up to six months in jail if convicted over a sermon delivered last year in which he branded Islam as "heathen" and "Satanic", will stand trial this week.
According to Charisma News, McConnell, who is 78 years old and battling cancer, delivered the controversial sermon to his congregation at the evangelical Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast in May of 2014. The pastor referred to Islam as "satanic" and "heathen" while defending Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim, who was charged with apostasy by a Muslim court and sentenced to death after marrying a Christian man.
Local authorities deemed these remarks "grossly offensive," and because the sermon was also streamed online, police also found him in violation of the United Kingdom's 2003 Communications Act.
"That offense 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," said a spokesman for the Public Prosecution Service, citing a provision of the sweeping law.
In an open letter penned prior to the trial, McConnell refused to back down or renounce his statement.
"As I have said many times, I refuse to be gagged and if necessary will go to prison; but be assured, when I come out, I will start again and preach the truth of the gospel!" he wrote.
"The reason I preached the sermon was to bring to light and protest at the terrible injustice done to a young Muslim woman named Miriam Ibrahim," he continued. "This was my main reason for preaching that sermon. Surely a so-called 'religious' organisation (who brutally would do this to a young woman; mutilating thousands of women; and imprisoning, torturing, crucifying and beheading thousands of men) ought to be branded 'satanic'!"
"The Lord Jesus Christ (who I serve) would never do this to anyone! He is the Saviour of the world and His death on the Cross of Calvary is sufficient to meet the needs of anyone who will put their trust in Him," he charged. "Your prayers are appreciated, but there is Someone very special praying for me and His Name is Jesus. He is my Great High Priest who stands for me and His blood-redeemed people in the Presence of God."
According to BBC, McConnell is now officially charged with improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing an offensive message to be sent using a public electronic communications network. His trial is expected to continue through Dec. 16.
According to the Times Oracle, more than 100 of McConnell's supporters were present in the courtroom for the trial.
"This is about Christians fighting back," the pastor told the Belfast Telegraph. "There is an agenda at work to restrict our rights while allowing followers of other religions to say and act as they please.
"My sermon was 45 minutes long. They took a 30-second clip from it, blew it out of all proportion, and began this legal charade at immense cost to the taxpayer. Well, enough is enough."
Fr. McCafferty, a parish priest in Crossgar, also told the Telegraph: "I will be delighted to give evidence on behalf of Pastor McConnell. We don't see eye-to-eye on many things but his prosecution is an absolute outrage."
He added, "There is no public interest in dragging a clergyman who is nearly 80 years of age and battling cancer into court. The police and the Public Prosecution Service need to wise up and leave the poor man alone."