An evangelical Belfast preacher who branded Islam “satanic” has said his prosecution is a “waste” of public money.
Pastor James McConnell also said he “loved” Muslims but was prepared to go to jail rather than retract the remarks made during a firebrand sermon last year.
The 78-year-old is due to appear before Belfast Magistrates’ Court tomorrow.
He said: “I think it is a waste of money. A waste of thousands.”
The fundamentalist preacher, who retired last year, sparked a public outcry when he said Islam was “heathen” and had been “spawned in hell”. The controversial speech was streamed online in May 2014.
Police initially launched a hate crime investigation but prosecutors have taken a case under the 2003 Communications Act.
He added: “I am not nervous in the least.
“I am not even afraid if they put me in prison. I will go for the sake of the Gospel.”
Mr McConnell, whose Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast attracts weekly crowds of 3,500, has apologised for any distress, but described the legal action as an attack on freedom of expression.
He said: “It is a battle of free speech.
“If I am put in jail people will immediately respond and say ’this is not right, this is terrible, this is evil’. And I think the jurisprudence of this land will be in big trouble.
“If I am successful, I will just praise God and get on my way and still preach the Gospel.”
Speaking from his home on the shores of Belfast Lough, Mr McConnell, who is paying his own legal fees, rejected allegations he was racist.
“I am no racist, sure I have (former) Muslims in my congregation,” he said. “I have all sorts of people in my congregation. I have never been a racist. I have never hated anybody in my life. I wouldn’t know how to hate anybody.”
He later added: “To every ordinary Muslim out there, I want to say to them that I love them, that I pray for them and if they are in need or in any bother, I am there for them.
“They are welcome to my church and welcome to hear God’s word.”
A diabetic, he is also battling prostate cancer and has undergone major surgery on his heart and liver.
He said: “Wonderful friends have said: ’We will go to the judge and we will tell (him) this man is ill, set him free’.
“But he will set me free with a slap on the wrist and I won’t take the slap on the wrist. He will set me free with a fine, I refuse to pay the fine because I am not guilty. I want to be fully acquitted.
“If not, they will stick me in jail. I do not want to go to jail. It would be terrible. I have a lovely, comfortable home. I am retired but I will go because I will not be the first child of God in jail and I will not be the last.”
Over the past 15 months the pastor has received 20,000 letters of support, including offers of legal assistance from top US lawyers.
Large crowds of Christian supporters are also expected to protest at the Laganside court complex on Thursday.
The born-again Christian said his faith had been “strengthened” in recent months.
Meanwhile, defence solicitor Joe Rice said he was disappointed by the slow progress in the case.
Mr Rice said: “We have lodged a detailed defence statement as far back as July 5 and we have received none of the material that we requested so that we can prepare an abuse of process application.
“It is disappointing that the Disclosure Officer has not provided us with the materials a month later.”
The Public Prosecution Service has also defended its decision to proceed with the court action.
A spokeswoman said: “After the evidential test for prosecution was met, it was concluded that public interest would be best served by affording the individual the option of disposal by means of a diversionary informed warning.
“However, the defendant turned down this option, leaving no choice but to refer the matter for prosecution.
“We consider that this matter is now most properly left to the courts to decide.”