Evangelical Protestant preacher James McConnell is found not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks during a sermon in which he described Islam as “satanic” and “spawned in hell”.
Pastor McConnell also praised Enoch Powell in the sermon at a church in Belfast and said he did not trust Muslims, some of whom had formed “cells” in Britain.
He walked free from Belfast Magistrates’ Court, where he had faced 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.”
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: “It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances. Accordingly, I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges.”
The prosecution had claimed it was a “straightforward” case because the words were delivered in a rehearsed sermon to an audience of 2,000 and watched by 700 online.
In his sermon at Whitewell Tabernacle Church in north Belfast in May 2014, Pastor McConnell, 78, said: “Today we see powerful evidence that more and more Muslims are putting the Koran’s hatred of Christians and Jews alike into practice.
“Now people say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don’t trust them. Enoch Powell was right and he lost his career because of it. Enoch Powell was a prophet and he told us that blood would flow in the streets and it has happened.”
Enoch Powell was a Conservative politician who was sacked from Edward Heath’s shadow cabinet in 1968 after making his “rivers of blood” speech, in which he warned against immigration.He later became an Ulster Unionist MP.
Pastor McConnell went on to say that Britain had once worried about IRA cells, adding: “Today a new evil has arisen. There are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain. Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
Pastor McConnell 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 his sermon was streamed online.
Outside court, he said: “The only regret I have is the response from the Muslim community, that I was out to hurt them.
“There was no way I was out to hurt them, I wouldn’t hurt a hair on their head. But what I am against is their theology and what they believe in.”