'Satanic Islam' Belfast preacher says he will go to jail to protect free speech
Pastor James McConnell, who is accused of preaching Islamic slurs, tells supporters outside court that he 'will not relent one inch'
by Henry McDonald
September 3, 2015
A born-again Christian pastor from Belfast, who denounced Islam as "satanic", has said he is prepared to go to jail to defend free speech.
Pastor James McConnell told supporters outside a Belfast court hearing on Thursday morning that "either they try me and put me in prison or I am free to preach the gospel".
The 78-year-old founder of an independent Christian church, based on the shores of Belfast Lough, accused the Public Prosecution Service of being unable to handle the case, which pitches the principle of free speech against alleged hate remarks.
McConnell is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act, after a speech that was streamed live from the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, in north Belfast. In it McConnell described Islam as "satanic" and "heathen".
A large crowd of born-again Christian supporters clapped and cheered the preacher as he entered Belfast magistrates court. Some carried placards reading 'We support Pastor McConnell' and 'Evil Sharia law is not welcome in our country'.
In a defiant message, McConnell told his supporters: "I will stand firm for the gospel. I will not relent one inch."
He added: "This is important, not only for me, it is important for every minister of the gospel of every denomination of freedom of speech and freedom of worship. This is, I believe, a test case."
Inside the court, one of McConnell's legal team told the district judge, George Conner, that they had been inundated with scores of potential witnesses wanting to testify on the pastor's behalf.
His defence lawyers said they wanted the proceedings thrown out of court because of a possible abuse of process.
The judge was told that the case could last up to five days and he later granted an application from the PPS for a four-week adjournment to review the case. The case was adjourned until 1 October.
Among the large crowd of supporters for McConnell, who was the founder of what used to be known as the Church of God ministry, were Democratic Unionist party MPs Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson.
Related Topics: Free Speech Legal Case, Hate Speech Laws
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the legal project's free mailing list