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Controversial sermon

August 2015

Rev. James McConnellA preacher in Northern Ireland, who was taken to court last year over comments he made in a sermon about Islam, could face six months in jail. 

Last March, James McConnell, aged 78, the minister of Belfast’s Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, preached a sermon in which he called Islam ‘satanic’. He said, ‘People say there are good Muslims in Britain — that may be so — but I don’t trust them. Islam is heathen; Islam is satanic; Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell’.

The message was live-streamed onto a website, thereby coming under the 2003 Communications Act and registered by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service as a ‘grossly offensive’ broadcast.

Last year, Northern Ireland Minister Peter Robinson backed the preacher’s remarks, saying he would not take religious advice from a Muslim, but was forced to apologise.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Rev. McConnell has been charged with making a grossly offensive statement. Since he declined to accept a warning, he will not be spared going to court.

A spokesman for the prosecutors told the BBC, ‘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. The offer of an informed warning was refused by the defendant and, accordingly, the matter is now proceeding by way of a summary prosecution in the magistrates’ court’.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Pastor McConnell said he would rather go to prison than withdraw the remarks.

He told the paper: ‘I am 78 years of age and in ill health, but jail knows no fear for me. I have no regrets about what I said. I do not hate Muslims but I denounce Islam as a doctrine and I make no apologies for that. I will be pleading “not guilty” when I stand in the dock in August’.

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