07 January 2016

Pastor McConnell had the right to make nasty comments about Islam

The bizarre trial of elderly Belfast pastor James McConnell has ended with the right verdict: not guilty. His attack on Islam – made from the platform of his Pentecostal super-church, Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, from which he has since retired – was nasty, lurid and ignorant.

All that wild-eyed fulminating about Islam being “heathen”, “satanic”, “a doctrine spawned in hell”, and Muslims being untrustworthy, sounded ludicrous and deeply offensive to most reasonable ears. It riled Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre enough to make a complaint to the police. Al-Wazzan described the sermon as “disgraceful and disgusting”.

Curiously, however, the resulting prosecution was not based on hate crime legislation; rather, McConnell was charged with sending “a grossly offensive message” under the Communications Act 2003.

Like many surprisingly tech-savvy evangelical Ulster preachers, McConnell had automatically uploaded his sermon to the internet, to be shared with the wider world, and it was this act – not the words themselves, spoken in the relative privacy of his church – which led to his appearance in court. [The Irish Times] Read more