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78 Y/O Christian Pastor Found 'Not Guilty' After Calling Islam 'Satanic': 'I'm Happy There is Liberty To Preach the Gospel'

( [email protected] ) Jan 05, 2016 12:46 PM EST
After a lengthy trial, Pastor James McConnell, who who came under fire for a sermon delivered in 2014 in which he branded Islam as "heathen" and "Satanic", was found not guilty of broadcasting grossly offensive remarks.
78-year-old Pastor James McConnell, who who came under fire for a sermon delivered in 2014 in which he branded Islam as ''heathen'' and ''Satanic'', was found not guilty of broadcasting grossly offensive remarks. Belfast Telegraph

After a lengthy trial, Pastor James McConnell, who who came under fire for a sermon delivered in 2014 in which he branded Islam as "heathen" and "Satanic", was found not guilty of broadcasting grossly offensive remarks.

According to a report from the BBC, the 78-year-old preacher, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, walked free from court after being acquitted of both counts by a judge in Belfast.

Speaking after the ruling, McConnell stated, "I am very happy that there is liberty to preach the gospel" before emphasizing that his only regret was the response from the Muslim community that he was "out to hurt them".

"There was no way I was out to hurt them - I wouldn't hurt a hair on their head,"  he said. "But what I am against is their theology and what they believe in.

"If there are Muslims out there, I want to assure them I love them and, if they need help, I am there to help them, but their theology and their beliefs I am totally against them."

He added: "I would do it again but I would word it differently because I would be conscious I was hurting innocent Muslims, I would be conscious I was hurting Muslims who have come here to work hard and are doing their best - there's no way I would hurt those people, but I would do it again, yes."

As reported by the Gospel Herald, McConnell, who is battling cancer, delivered the sermon in question to his congregation at the evangelical Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast in May of 2014. The pastor made his comments about Islam while defending Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim, who was charged with apostasy by a Muslim court and sentenced to death after marrying a Christian man.

"The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Muhammad, the Islam Prophet, was born around the year A.D. 570, but Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion," he preached. "Now, people say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don't trust them."

McConnell continued, "Islam's ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teaching of the holy scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell."

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.

However, speaking on Tuesday, district judge Liam McNally explained that while he considered the remarks offensive, he did not consider them "grossly" offensive under the law, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

"The courts need to be very careful not to criticize speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive," he warned. "It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances...Accordingly I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges."

The judge added that McConnell is "entitled to criticize Islam in a robust manner," and that his comments amounted to "nothing other than a bout of name calling."

Speaking to the Telegraph the night before his trial, the pastor denounced the Public Prosecution Service's decision to charge him, but said that the prosecuting counsel had treated him with "professionalism, courtesy and fairness" throughout the trial.

"The best bit for me was when they played my sermon in court," he said. "The clip with the controversial comments was only 35 seconds long but they played the full hour-and-a-half sermon. I was delighted. I don't think I converted anybody in court but at least they all had to listen to the gospel."

The pastor said he wasn't nervous as he awaited the verdict. "I am in the Lord's hands now. Those who made the decision to prosecute me may have thought I'd buckle under the pressure but I haven't, though the trial has been hard on my wife Margaret. She tries to keep it from me but I know she has found it stressful."