A speech in Belfast by the leader of far-right group Britain First was aimed at stirring up fear and hatred towards Muslims in Northern Ireland, a court heard on Wednesday.
Prosecutors claimed Paul Golding went beyond criticising aspects of a religion at a rally outside City Hall where he spoke about “colonisation and Islamification by the back door”.
Golding, 37, and his one-time deputy leader Jayda Fransen, 32, are among four people on trial over their addresses to the ‘Northern Ireland Against Terrorism’ event in August 2017.
They are accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words intended to stir up hatred or arouse fear.
Similar charges have also been brought against 61-year-old John Banks, of Acacia Road in Doncaster, south Yorkshire, and Paul Rimmer, 56, of Modred Street in Liverpool.
All four accused deny the allegations against them.
Defence lawyers argued that they are entitled to freedom of expression - no matter how offensive their speeches may be.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court was shown footage of the addresses given by each of the accused at the event.
Demonstrators had gathered on the same day as a republican march organised to mark the use of internment without trial by the British Army at the height of the Troubles in 1971.
Golding allegedly referred to a mosque in Newtownards as part of his claims about Islam’s colonisation.
During his speech he said: “We have got a problem with one religion and one religion only, that is Islam.”
The court heard Fransen told those gathered there was no moderate version of Islam, and stated: “These people are baying for our blood.”
Crown lawyer Robin Steer drew a distinction between the contents of their speeches and a claim once made by former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley that the Pope was “the antichrist”.
He contended: “It’s not the same as saying all Catholics should be killed or all Catholics are involved in a war against you.”
Mr Steer added: “The prosecution say this is nothing to do with either religion or terrorism, that it’s simply stirring up hatred and fear against a particular section of the community in Northern Ireland - Muslims.”
None of the four defendants gave evidence at the contested hearing.
But Mark Farrell, representing Golding and Fransen, claimed they should be free to express reasonably held beliefs.
“There’s no doubt that what was said by my two clients could be offensive, it could be hurtful and it could be gravely insulting to members of a particular religious grouping, but that’s not the point,” he told the court.
“The point is our democracy allows for people to express strongly held views on various matters, including religion, in a way that stimulates and starts debate.”
Mr Farrell insisted it had been an organised political rally involving speeches to “a group of like-minded individuals”.
With further defence submissions to be made, District Judge George Conner indicated he was likely to reserve his verdict in the case.