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Pastor McConnell's prosecution defies logic

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 10/07/2015

Pastor James McConnell
Pastor James McConnell

The prosecution of Pastor James McConnell for his controversial comments on Islam gets more bizarre by the day with the revelation that the main witness against him is a Muslim leader from Belfast who has openly declared admiration for Islamic State rule in Iraq.

Dr Raied Al-Wazzan said earlier this year that Mosul in Iraq is now the most peaceful city in the world after being occupied by Isis, which was less evil than the Iraqi Government. These are sentiments which relatives of the thousands of people butchered by Isis extremists - including western hostages barbarically beheaded by the group - would find very difficult to accept.

Indeed, it is not stretching a point too far to say that those relatives would find the words of Dr Al-Wazzan as grossly offensive as the comments over which Pastor McConnell is being brought to trial.

Yet those words presumably sum up the genuine feelings of Dr Al-Wazzan and no one has denied him the right to express them or have them published. That is one of the fundamentals underpinning free speech. You may not agree with what is being said, but that should not prevent a legitimate point of view being uttered.

The strange thing about Pastor McConnell's prosecution is that it was not his sermon per se that ran foul of the law, but the fact that it was streamed on the internet.

He is charged with communicating a grossly offensive message.

He has found at least two unlikely allies - respected Islamic academic Dr Al-Hussaini and Catholic priest Fr Patrick McCafferty - who would not share Pastor McConnell's views but who have expressed grave concerns about his prosecution.

Like the recent Ashers 'gay cake' case, this is another example of the law clashing with the religious beliefs of individuals. As a writer in this newspaper put it, one could be prosecuted for electronically sharing the pastor's comments and also for refusing to put them on a cake for religious reasons. Even the author of Through The Looking Glass would be impressed by that reasoning.

The term witch-hunt in this case may be viewed as too harsh an assessment, but to the ordinary person in the street it does appear that the finest legal minds in the PPS certainly put the work in to find a charge that fitted the perceived crime. Time will tell which side the courts will agree with.

Belfast Telegraph

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