Evangelical Protestant preacher Pastor James McConnell, has been found not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks during a sermon in which he described Islam as “heathen”, “satanic”.
The born-again Christian from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, walked free from Belfast Magistrates’ Court where he had faced a prosecution under the 2003 Communications Act.
Delivering his verdict, District Judge Liam McNally said: “The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise 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.”
McConnell, 78, had faced two charges – 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 – after the sermon delivered from the pulpit of his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 18 2014 were streamed online.
In it he described Islam as a “doctrine spawned in hell” and that he did not trust Muslims.
The judge said while the words upon which the charges were based were offensive, they did not reach the high threshold of being “grossly offensive”.
He added: “If he had clarified this in his sermon and set out in a clear and precise way why Sharia law was repugnant to him he could have saved himself a lot of trouble.”
As the judge delivered his reserved judgment, the crowd of up to 50 Christian supporters who had packed into the public gallery of courtroom number 13 erupted into applause.