Monday, September 07, 2015

Pastor's 'hate crime' prosecution drags on

The "hate crime" prosecution of Belfast Metropolitan Tabernacle pastor James McConnell, who called Islam "satanic" in a sermon, drags on.

A video of the sermon was placed on the internet. Belfast Islamic Centre complained to police, and Mr McConnell was charged under the 2003 Communications Act with sending a message by means of a public electronic communications network that was "grossly offensive."

Critics say the decision to prosecute him while routinely ignoring extremist Muslim preachers showed Christians are being persecuted.

Something like a thousand people turned up to show support for Mr McConnell at his first appearance at Belfast Magistrates' Court in August. He told them: "They are spending thousands. It is ridiculous. It is absolutely stupid."

Defending solicitor Mr Joe Rice told the court: "This is one of the most bizarre and peculiar cases I have ever seen before the court. The pastor. . . did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims. He expressed views about another religion, not in a personalised manner but in a generalised way. This is not the PPS's finest hour." 

The case was adjourned for four weeks.

Atheist Suzanne Breen wrote in the Belfast Telegraph: "I carry no candle for Christian fundamentalists, but there is something seriously wrong in hauling a pensioner pastor in ill health through the courts for simply expressing an opinion. In the face of a draconian response from the state, the pastor's reaction has been inspirational."

Hundreds of supporters turned up when Mr McConnell again appeared at court last week. "I will stand firm for the gospel," he told them. "I will not relent one inch. This is, I believe, a test case."

Mr Rice told the court: "We have not lost sight of a possible abuse of process application." A request for a further four-week adjournment was granted to allow the Public Prosecution Service to review the case.

So in view of talk of a possible abuse of process application and a case review, will the pastor get to testify in court? Time will tell. 

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