Pastor James McConnell, who made degrading comments about Islam in a 2014 sermon, is now facing prosecution for alleged violation of the 2003 Communications Act.
Because this is the Internet and many people may read that without the proper context for where it occurred, I should note that the law and the prosecution both emanate from Northern Ireland, as does McConnell.
So this isn’t a situation American religious leaders have to deal with, but for McConnell, it’s all too real.
In his previous sermon, the pastor had this to say.
“Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
The comments were a reaction to a death sentence that Meriam Yehya Ibrahim was sentenced to for converting from Islam to Christianity.
(Just as an aside, Ibrahim was never executed and now resides in New Hampshire, according to the Huffington Post.)
McConnell did issue an apology, but that was apparently for just the tone of his comments, because in an interview with the Telegraph, he stood by his opinion.
“It is a case of back to the future,” he told the news site. “In the first century, the apostles were jailed for preaching the Gospel. Early Christians were boiled in oil, burnt at the stake and devoured by wild beasts. If they faced that and kept their faith, I can easily do six months in jail. I am 78 years old and in ill health, but jail knows no fear for me.”
According to the 2003 Communications Act, the offense of Pastor James McConnell “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.”
A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had this to say:
“I can confirm that following consideration of a complaint in relation to an internet broadcast of a sermon in May 2014, a decision was taken to offer an individual an informed warning for an offense contrary to the Communications Act 2003. 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’ court.”
Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, said he disagrees with the views of the pastor, but he is concerned about the prosecution.
“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,” he said.
What do you think about this case, readers? Is the government in Northern Ireland abusing the law in going after the pastor? And should James McConnell and other religious fundamentalists be prosecuted for hate speech here in the States? Sound off in the comments section.
[Image of Pastor James McConnell via Telegraph, linked above]