Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Northern Ireland Court Acquits Pastor Charged With Internet Broadcast of Anti-Muslim Sermon

In Belfast, Northern Ireland yesterday, a Magistrate's Court acquitted 78-year old Pastor James McConnell who had been indicted on two charges under Britain's Communications Act 2003 for anti-Muslim comments he made in a May 2014 sermon that was streamed online. The Belfast Telegraph reports that McConnell was charged with improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.  At issue were the pastor's statements that Islam is a "doctrine spawned in hell," that it is heathen and satanic, and that he does not trust Muslims. The court ruled that while the statements are offensive, they did not reach the level of being "grossly offensive."  The court also concluded that the pastor had not intentionally caused offense. According to the court:
He is a man with strong, passionate and sincerely held beliefs. In my view Pastor McConnell's mindset was that he was preaching to the converted in the form of his own congregation and like-minded people who were listening to his service rather than preaching to the worldwide internet.
His passion and enthusiasm for his subject caused him to, so to speak, 'lose the run of himself'."
He added that "the right to freedom of expression includes the right to say things or express opinions that offend, shock or disturb..."

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the opinion in DPP v. McConnell.  Law & Religion UK has additional discussion of the decision.