A judge in Northern Ireland has found embattled pastor James McConnell not guilty of making “grossly offensive remarks” against Islam.
The verdict came just days after McConnell warned that there would be an “uprising” in Northern Ireland if he was found guilty and jailed over over a contentious sermon that he delivered back in 2014.
Judge Liam McNally said that, though the comments in which McConnell, 78, called Islam “satanic” and “spawned in hell” were offensive, they were not “grossly offensive under the law,” the BBC reported.
“The courts need to be very careful not to criminalize speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive,” McNally said, dismissing the two charges against the pastor. “It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances.”
Watch McConnell discuss the case below:
McConnell’s supporters cheered as the verdict was read inside Belfast Magistrates Court, with the pastor later sharing his elation over the verdict, according to the BBC.
“I am very happy that there is liberty to preach the gospel,” he said outside the court.
While he said that he would preach the same message in the future, McConnell did note that he will be more careful with his words, as he wishes not to hurt Muslims, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
“There was no way I was out to hurt them — I wouldn’t hurt a hair on their head,” he said of Muslims. “But what I am against is their theology and what they believe in.”
McConnell continued, “If there are Muslims out there, I want to assure them I love them and, if they need help, I am there to help them, but their theology and their beliefs, I am totally against them.”
As TheBlaze previously reported, the legal battle began after McConnell, who previously preached at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before retiring, made his comments — which included calling Islam “heathen” — in a sermon delivered at the church in May 2014, the BBC reported.
“The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Muhammad, the Islam Prophet, was born around the year A.D. 570, but Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion,” he preached. “Now, people say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don’t trust them.”
McConnell continued, “Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teaching of the holy scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
Watch that sermon below:
The pastor was later accused of both improper usage of an electronic communications network and of sending a grossly offensive message through a public network when that message was streamed over the Internet.
Before his trial unfolded, a representative for the Public Prosecution Service in North Ireland had said that McConnell’s offense was “one of sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”
A trial could have been avoided, but McConnell reportedly denied the issuance of an “informed warning,” which is not a conviction, though it stays on a person’s criminal record for the period of one year; accepting the informed warning would have prevented the pastor from being prosecuted in court.
For now, his supporters are elated that he will be a free man who was found not guilty of the communications crimes waged against him.
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