In his disputatious address Pastor McConnell declared that ‘Islam is satanic’ and was ‘spawned in hell’.
In the same sermon he said, ‘I don’t trust Muslims’ and he sympathized with the views of Enoch Powell expressed in that man’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Mr McConnell’s statements are a matter of public record. Some of us think them objectively offensive. Indeed, at the time, the then Moderator of the Presbyterian Church said that the words ‘are not consistent with the Gospel of Christ’.
So it was disturbing to see hundreds of his supporters outside Belfast Magistrates’ Court lionizing him as a champion of free speech.
But, strictly speaking, the present court case is not about free speech but rather whether or not an offence was committed under the provisions of the Communications Act 2003 in which it is unlawful to send a message that is grossly offensive.
In other words it is not the expression of the pastor’s sentiments that are the issue but the broadcasting of them.
The pastor also views himself as a victim and complains that his prosecution ‘is a waste of public money’. But in a civilized society the rights of minorities especially need to be protected.
His sermon was preached at a time when Belfast was being described by some as the most racist city in Europe because of hate crimes against ethnic minorities. Once a formal complaint was made the Public Prosecution Service was bound to consider the case.
However, even if the PPS might have thought the law to have been broken they were not bound to prosecute.
In fact, they chose not to proceed, deciding instead to issue an ‘informed warning’ which Mr McConnell refused to accept, presumably because he thought that acceptance would be tantamount to an admission that the content of his broadcast message was, indeed, grossly offensive. The pastor’s refusal left the PPS with no option but to test the case in court.
Wes Holmes, Belfast BT14