Northern Ireland

Pastor James McConnell Islam remarks case judgement reserved

Pastor McConnell arriving at court in Belfast on Monday morning
Image caption Pastor McConnell's trial began in Belfast on Monday

A judge in the trial of an evangelical preacher accused of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam will deliver his verdict next month.

Pastor James McConnell, 78, denies two charges relating to a sermon he gave in a church last year.

A prosecution lawyer said his words were not "a slip of the tongue", while a defence lawyer said he should not be convicted.

Judgement was reserved, and the verdict will be given on 5 January.

Summing up the prosecution's case, a barrister said Pastor McConnell, of Shore Road, Newtownabbey, was "not on trial for his beliefs", but for what he said and using words that were allegedly grossly offensive.

"He intended to use those words, it wasn't a slip of the tongue," he told Belfast Magistrates Court.

However, a defence barrister called on the court to find Pastor McConnell not guilty.

He said he was a man with an unblemished record who should be recognised for his good works in society, not convicted in court.

'Present the truth'

Earlier, Pastor McConnell told the court that he still believed in what he had preached, and did not go into church to "provoke anyone".

He said he only realised he may have offended anyone when he got a call from BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"I was attacking the theology of Islam. I was not attacking any individual Muslim," he told the court.

"I didn't realise that good Muslim people would be hurt.

"I didn't go into the church to provoke anyone. I went into church to present the truth."

Character witnesses

Asked why he refused an informal warning that would have prevented a criminal trial he said: "If I took it, that would be an insult to the one I love ... that was me gagged for the rest of my life."

DUP MP Sammy Wilson and Catholic priest Fr Patrick McCafferty appeared as character witnesses for Pastor McConnell.

Fr McCafferty said that in spite of their theological differences, the pastor and he shared a Christian love.

"He has no hatred," he said.

Pastor McConnell 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.

On Tuesday, an application by the evangelical preacher's defence to stop his trial was rejected by the judge.

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