An elderly Northern Irish preacher has been cleared of charges of making ‘grossly offensive remarks’. Pastor James McConnell faced hate speech charges after he gave a sermon in May 2014 at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
During the sermon, which was also streamed online, Mr McConnell said, ‘Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell’.
His comments were prompted by the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman who had faced the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, but was later released.
It was because of the streaming that the charges were first brought of improper use of a public electronic communications network, and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.
Pastor McConnell endured a hearing in September 2015 and a three-day trial in December. In the judgment, which was issued in January 2016, district judge Liam McNally found Pastor McConnell not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks.
He said: ‘The courts need to be very careful not to criticise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances. Accordingly, I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges’ (see ET comment).