Pastor James McConnell vows not to be silenced by courts as he faces prosecution over 'Islam is satanic' sermon
Controversial preacher James McConnell has vowed not to be silenced by the courts as he faces prosecution for calling Islam "satanic."
The firebrand Belfast pastor told the Belfast Telegraph he refused to accept a police warning about his anti-Islamic tirade because "they were trying to shut me up".
He is now due to be prosecuted for telling his congregation at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in May last year that "Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell."
But the 78 year-old preacher insisted: "I’m not taking it lying down. I am not going to be gagged."
He added: "The police tried to shut me up and tell me what to preach. It’s ridiculous. 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," Mr McConnell said.
He said that he received over 20,000 messages of support after his anti-Islamic sermon went viral.
"People are supporting me and my family is behind me. I have no criminal convictions and I’ve no idea how this is all going to end up but I’m not going to be silenced," he added.
Speaking to his congregation in north Belfast last year, Mr McConnell said "a new evil had arisen" and "there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain".
"Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell," he said.
He said he agreed with the late MP Enoch Powell, whose 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech criticised immigration.
"Enoch Powell was a prophet, he called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened," he said.
Following an angry backlash over his remarks Mr McConnell said he had not intended to "arouse fear or stir up or incite hatred" towards any member of the Muslim community.
At the time he said his remarks were inspired by hearing the story of pregnant woman Meriam Yehya Ibrahim (26), who was sentenced to death in Sudan after refusing to recant her Christian beliefs.
The PSNI then investigated a possible hate crime in relation to the comments which sparked anger in the Muslim and wider community and which Pastor McConnell later apologised for.
There was a political storm when First Minister Peter Robinson backed Mr McConnell during the row and was heavily criticised for comments of his own but later visited Islamic leaders to apologise.
The Public Prosecution said Mr McConnell was offered an informed warning but he declined.
The offence which the preacher will be prosecuted for is "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 PPS spokeswoman said: “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 offence contrary to the Communications Act 2003.
"That offence 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. 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.”
In September Mr McConnell retired after 57 years of ministry. He began the church with just 10 members in a rented Orange hall in 1957.
Speaking at the time he said: "This past 18 months I have fought with myself what to do regarding my leadership in Whitewell, and now I feel the hour is come to completely hand over the reins to Pastor David Purse and all the pastors who assist him."