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Pastor Who Branded Islam ‘Satanic’ Found Not Guilty, Not ‘Grossly Offensive’, Judge: He’s A

James McConnell — the Northern Irish Pastor charged with making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam —  has been found not guilty by a judge at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.

Mr. McConnell, 72, stood accused of a “hate crime” for “sending a malicious communication” after broadcasting a sermon on the Internet last year in which he described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”. The charge carried a possible sentence of six months in jail.

District judge Liam McNally said: “The courts need to be very careful not to criticise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances, adding: “Accordingly I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges”, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

The trial was moved to one of Belfast’s biggest courtrooms after so many supporters turned up at the first attempted hearing that the case had to be postponed.

Last night the “firebrand” pastor, who is paying his own court fees, reaffirmed his defiant attitude by vowing not to pay any fines if he was found guilty.

The case has been seen as an important benchmark for freedom of speech and religion in the UK. The pastor has refused to give any admission of guilt, or sign documents to that effect, and has declined the offer of an “informed warning” from police, which could have avoided his court appearances.

He said in June last year, two weeks after the offending sermon:

“It is a battle of free speech. If I am put in jail people will immediately respond and say: ‘This is not right, this is terrible, this is evil’. If I am successful, I will just praise God and get on my way and still preach the Gospel.”

Added: “I am 78 years of age. I have had four heart bypasses, a liver operation and I have cancer and diabetes, but jail knows no fear for me.

“They can lock me up with sex offenders and paramilitaries and I will do my time. I won’t be withdrawing what I said and I make no apologies for my beliefs.”

He has also said the charges are “ridiculous” and argued that he “was attacking the theology of Islam… not attacking any individual Muslim”.

Also in June 2015, he apologised for his remarks in a statement and clarified his position. He wrote:

“My church funds medical care for 1,200 Muslim children in Kenya and Ethiopia. I’ve no hatred in my heart for Muslims… I believe in freedom of speech. I’m going to keep on preaching the gospel. I have nothing against Muslims, I have never hated Muslims, I have never hated anyone. But I am against what Muslims believe. They have the right to say what they believe in and I have a right to say what I believe.”

The local Muslim leader pushing for Mr. McConnell’s prosecution has said that Mosul, where the Islamic State has murdered or expelled all of the city’s 2,000-year-old 60,000-strong Christian community, is “the most peaceful city in the world” and “[Islamic State is] less evil than the Iraqi government”.

He has not been charged with “hate speech”.

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