The three-day trial has concluded for an evangelical pastor in Northern Ireland who is under fire after delivering a 2014 sermon during which he called Islam “satanic” and “spawned in hell,” with the presiding judge reserving his verdict until after Christmas.
Pastor James McConnell, 78, found himself in legal trouble for uttering "grossly offensive" words in the sermon, which streamed on the Internet, though he has vocally fought back against the charges that were brought against him, defending himself on the stand this week.
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 the fiery sermon below:
The pastor's legal team argued that the preacher didn't intend to offend anyone with his remarks. Interestingly, the comments that seemed to most frustrate the prosecutors were the words he uttered about not trusting the "good Muslims in Britain," the BBC reported.
It was that portion of the sermon that the prosecution said violated the Communications Act 2003, calling it "grossly offensive," but it's a stance against the majority of Muslims that McConnell wasn't willing to back down from, repeating his distrust of Islamic adherents before the court, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
"He is preaching a sermon, he is instructing, he is wishing people to listen. There is clear evidence that he intended to use those words," prosecutor David Russell said in court. "They were not a slip of the tongue. It is a straightforward case."
Here's how the Telegraph framed the back-and-forth:
He was asked by prosecuting barrister David Russell which Muslims he excluded when he referred to a "majority".
Pastor McConnell replied: "I don't know."
Mr Russell pointed out a quote from an interview the pastor gave to the Stephen Nolan Show, where he said: "I don't trust them."
Pastor McConnell again said: "Because of their Sharia law."
The judge later clarified: "You do trust a minority of Muslims?"
"Of course, yes," Pastor McConnell responded.
Before the trial unfolded, a representative for the Public Prosecution Service in North Ireland had said that McConnell 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.”
Watch McConnell discuss the case:
Judge Liam McNally will issue his opinion on January 5. Read more about the case here.