Unrepentant 'Satanic Islam' sermon Pastor James McConnell 'will not be silenced'
An evangelical preacher has vowed that he will not be silenced after appearing in court on charges linked to an anti-Islamic sermon.
Pastor James McConnell said he would not go back on what he had preached - even though he could face a six-month jail term.
"I'm not guilty and I'm pleading not guilty," he told supporters after appearing at Laganside Magistrates Court yesterday.
"I want to be exonerated, I want acquitted, I want rid of all this, and as soon as I'm rid of this I'll be preaching the same message."
Earlier, there were chaotic scenes as more than 1,000 people gathered inside and outside the court building in a mass show of solidarity.
Pastor McConnell is facing charges connected to a controversial sermon he gave last year.
The 78-year-old is 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.
The charges relate to an internet-broadcast sermon he delivered at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast.
Pastor McConnell described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic" and "a doctrine spawned in Hell".
He apologised following a public outcry over the remarks.
During yesterday's brief hearing, solicitor Joe Rice said his client would be strenuously contesting the case.
"We are pleading not guilty - a very candid not guilty," he told district judge Amanda Henderson.
Mr Rice said he intended to lodge an abuse of process application to have the case thrown out.
He described it as one of the most bizarre and peculiar cases to come before the courts.
The court heard there are four main witnesses.
Mr Rice said his client, sitting at the back of the public gallery, had waited a long time for the case to come before the court.
He added: "He did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims.
"He simply expressed his views about another religion, not in a personalised manner but in an entirely generalised way."
The court was told that Pastor McConnell believes that freedom of speech means he has the right to criticise Islam, just as Islamic clerics have the right to criticise him.
"This is a principled stance that the pastor has taken," Mr Rice added.
He claimed the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had "dangled a carrot" in front of Pastor McConnell by previously offering to give him an informed warning. Although not a conviction, it is recorded on a person's criminal record for 12 months.
"That was based on the premise that he pleads guilty to the offences," Mr Rice explained.
"Pastor McConnell has strenuously denied any culpability, morally or legally, in relation to these offences and will continue to do so."
Pastor McConnell was applauded and cheered as he left court.
Outside, he accused the PPS of running scared.
"They were nervous in that court - very nervous," he said.
"I thank God for my solicitor, who presented a brilliant case."
Pastor McConnell repeated earlier claims that the prosecution was a waste of public money.
"It is ridiculous, it's stupid. What is wrong with this country?" he added.
The case has been adjourned until September 3.