An evangelical Christian pastor has said he would rather go to prison than withdraw a comment calling Islam “satanic”. Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is facing prosecution under the Communications Act 2003 for making the “grossly offensive” statement in a sermon streamed online.
However, he told the Belfast Telegraph that he intends to plead not guilty and will happily spend time in jail with “sex offenders, hoodlums, and paramilitaries” rather than back down.
“I am 78 years old and in ill health, but jail knows no fear for me,” the pastor said, adding that he had no regrets about his words on “heathen” Muslims.
McConnell said: “I do not hate Muslims but I denounce Islam as a doctrine and I make no apologies for that. I will be pleading ‘not guilty’ when I stand in the dock in August.”
“I am facing up to six months in jail and a hefty fine for saying what I believe,” he adding while admitting suffering from cancer and diabetes.
Pastor McConnell said in his sermon: “People say there are good Muslims in Britain—that may be so—but I don’t trust them. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
He refused an offer of an “informed warning” from the police, with Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) saying in a statement: “That offence 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.
“The offer of an informed warning was refused by the defendant and accordingly the matter is now proceeding by way of a summary prosecution in the magistrates.”
Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, said: “I don’t agree with all that Pastor McConnell said, but I am deeply concerned about this prosecution for allegedly sending a message that is grossly offensive.
“Many churches will be wary of what they place on the internet until this case is heard and the law is clarified. This prosecution seems to stretch the Communications Act well beyond what parliament intended.”