The trial of an evangelical preacher accused of branding Islam “heathen” and “satanic” has opened with gospel music being played in a Belfast courtroom.
Pastor James McConnell has been charged in connection with the controversial speech made from the pulpit of his north Belfast church last year.
McConnell, 78, from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is being prosecuted at Belfast Magistrates Court under the 2003 Communications Act.
He faces 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 remarks made at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle were streamed online.
The evangelical fundamentalist denies the charges.
A DVD of the entire May 2014 service including prayers, scripture reading and hymn singing was played to the court.
District Judge Liam McNally questioned the necessity of playing the whole recording which lasted for over an hour.
The judge, who had a transcript of the service, said: “I know it is a church sermon.
“Do I have to listen to three sets of singing?”
During the sermon, which was played in full, McConnell said: “Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
He also said the sermon may be misunderstood.
As gospel music rang out some of the 100 born again Christian supporters who have packed the public gallery silently clapped their hands, tapped their feet and mouthed the words.
At one point they burst into spontaneous applause.
After an hour, the judge requested the recording be stopped.
He said: “I am as keen as the next man on an uplifting tune but the rest of this is three songs and then the pastor asks everyone to go upstairs to get a cup of tea.”
The judge accepted argument from McConnell’s defence team it was important to watch the DVD in its entirety.
Three days have been set aside for the high profile trial at Belfast’s Laganside court complex.
In his opening speech, prosecutor David Russell said the decision to proceed with the case was “proportionate and necessary”.
Mr Russell said: “He (McConnell) characterises the followers of an entire religion in a stereotypical way. And that’s grossly offensive and that’s not protected from saying it from a pulpit.
“It has nothing to do with religion or freedom of expression of his freedom to preach.”
A transcript of a television appearance in which McConnell defended his remarks was also read to the court.
Mr Russell said: “He is unrepentant.”
The court was told that in a prepared statement given to police during an interview, McConnell said he had not intended to cause offence, insult, arouse fear or stir up tension.
He abhorred violence and apologised, the court heard.
The case was transferred to a larger courtroom on the fourth floor normally reserved for crown court cases.
More than 100 people packed into the public gallery with more supporters accommodated in the body of the court.
Prominent politicians including East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister were also present.
McConnell, who was dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and purple tie sat listening intently beside his wife Margaret and other family members.
As he arrived at court, he was in bullish form and joked it was a “good day for a hanging, particularly to hang the prosecution service.”
The trial continues.