‘Drop case against Pastor McConnell’

‘Drop case against Pastor McConnell’

The London-based National Secular Society (NSS) has added its voice to a growing number of organisations, both religious and secular, who are calling on the Northern Ireland authorities to drop a charge against pastor James McConnell, above.

According to this report, Pastor McConnell potentially faces up to six months in prison if convicted over a sermon last year in which he branded Islam “heathen” and “Satanic”.


The main witness in the prosecution case is to be Dr Raied Al-Wazzanm, above, of the Belfast Islamic Centre, who earlier this year praised Islamic State for being a positive force in Mosul, his home city in Iraq.

He said Mosul was “the most peaceful city in the world” adding that:

These people [IS] are less evil than the Iraqi government.

In his Police Service Northern Ireland witness statement, Dr Al-Wazzan denounced the pastor’s “terrible comments” which he found:

Offensive and disgusting.

But a coalition of moderate Muslim, Christian and atheist figures have joined together to support the evangelical preacher’s right to free speech.

In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, the NSS’s Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said the case against the pastor was not in the public interest.

Given there seems to be no incitement to violence in McConnell’s comments, the PPS must be seen to have behaved in an authoritarian manner and, at a critical time, to have undermined freedom of speech in a period where it is already under very direct attack.

The prosecution must be viewed in a broader context where freedom of expression is being curtailed, particularly with regards to Islam and the criticism of religion.

He added:

We question whether your decision would have been taken were Islam not the subject of the ‘offending’ aspects of his sermon. If the word ‘atheism’ were substituted, we find it extremely improbable – even unimaginable – that the PPS would have pursued this reckless course of action.

Porteous Wood went on:

Criticism of ideas and ideologies must be considered as protected speech in the most fundamental sense, and James McConnell was exercising this right as he is, in our view, completely free to do.

McConnell has been charged under the 2003 Communications Act with:

Sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.

The charge centres on a sermon he gave in May 2014 in which he said:

Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.

The sermon in the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle was streamed on the Internet.

Porteous Wood claimed the PPS’s decision to prosecute the pastor was “a serious misreading” of the Communications Act and:

A gross overstep of that legislation’s intent as framed by parliament. The prosecution in itself, irrespective of the trial’s outcome, has created a chilling effect already as evidenced by the view of the Evangelical Alliance and the response of churches.

The Reverend Brian Lacey, of St Peter’s Church of Ireland in Belfast, described the law in this area as a minefield and said he would not wish to place his sermons online. A successful conviction would be a significant and regressive moment.

Porteous Wood said the PPS must:

Fully consider human rights legislation and apply the principles contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. In light of this we urge you to reconsider your decision.

It is not in the public interest to pursue a case which is so palpably harmful to religious freedom and the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

A spokeswoman for the PPS confirmed it had received the National Secular Society’s letter and said it would be “responding in due course”.

She added:

This case is now before the court and it is for the judge to decide on all evidential matters. It would be inappropriate for the PPS to make any further comments at this point.

Last month, Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini of the Westminster Institute, a practising Muslim, spoke out against the decision to prosecute McConnell. He described it as “extraordinary” and:

Contrary to our country’s tradition of freedom of speech. I strongly uphold the moral right of Pastor McConnell and myself, as Christian and Muslim, to disagree about matters of doctrine and belief.

15 responses to “‘Drop case against Pastor McConnell’”

  1. barriejohn says:

    He said Mosul was “the most peaceful city in the world.”

    Our local cemetery is a very peaceful spot as well.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Or something along those lines.

  3. Secular Humanist says:

    “McConnell has been charged under the 2003 Communications Act with:
    Sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”

    What a ridiculous law. “Grossly offensive”? Grow a thicker skin. I find all sorts of things “offensive”, but when it comes to an issue of speech, unless there’s enticement to violence, there’s no reasonable justification to act on it.

  4. h3r3tic says:

    Despite being a member of the NSS I may choose to write a blog in which I describe Keith Porteous Wood as a pretentious, arrogant twat. This is my right and I would expect that, if questioned, I would have to produce examples of his pretentiousness and arrogance in order to support my complaints. What I would not expect is to be charged s a result of Mr Porteous Wood finding my comments “grossly offensive”. As always in these cases I am reminded of the quote by Stephen Fry, “I am offended by that… Well so fucking what.”

  5. .Korgu says:

    McConnell is right about islam … islam is heathen, islam is Satanic, islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell. And one must extend that assertion to include all other religions too.

  6. AgentCormac says:

    OT, but the vatican ‘trial’ of ex-archbishop and child sex monster, Jozef Wesolowski has been halted because he isn’t very well. (Or should that be because he’s sick?) Quelle surprise!

  7. sailor1031 says:

    Dr Raied Al-Wazzanm will obviously be returning to Mosul as soon as possible to enjoy the peace of islam forced upon it by IS. One wonders if he obtained his status in the UK because of claiming to be a refugee?

  8. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: His illness is “unspecified.” Very convenient.

  9. barriejohn says:

    Secular Humanist: I think we would all draw the line at GROSSLY offensive comments, don’t you? (I am being grossly ironic there.)

    And how about this for a bizarre attitude towards freedom of expression, by the West Highland Free Press?

  10. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: The West Highland Free Press – not as free as its title indicates. Islam is having its work done for it although this episode is bizarre.

    If Barry Duke stops critical comments of Islam appearing here that will be literary Armageddon – game over, laptop lid closed for the last time.

  11. Newspaniard says:

    It looks like The West Highland Free Press is running scared. Not exactly Charlie Hebdo but there are many islamofascists in Scotland.

  12. barriejohn says:

    A thought-provoking article regarding free speech in Ireland:

    I’ve long been of the belief that we should heartily embrace the offence caused by caustic free speech. Because the harsher the speech that is allowed, the harsher the truths that can be freely told. Without the freedom to offend, the freedom of expression does not truly exist.

  13. Bubblecar says:

    “We question whether your decision would have been taken were Islam not the subject of the ‘offending’ aspects of his sermon. If the word ‘atheism’ were substituted, we find it extremely improbable – even unimaginable – that the PPS would have pursued this reckless course of action.”

    Exactly. It would also be extremely improbable that any atheists would seek to prosecute or silence anyone for saying such things.

  14. People like McConnell shouldn’t be dealt with by the law. Poison like his should be challenged firmly by society. It should start with people refusing to go to his Church or giving him any honours as a pastor. His faith in the Bible is disgusting.

    When a holy book commands murder or violence, and/or agrees with murder and violence in the past, it should be dismissed as unholy – no ifs or buts. It should be discarded immediately. There are certain evils you must not look for excuses or reasons for. And holy books that honour a God who commands violence are top of the list.

    God is alleged to have declared in and by the Bible, which he supposedly wrote, that a man lying with a man is an abomination and they have nobody to blame but themselves for being stoned to death. There are many others in the line up for barbaric execution such as adulterers and kidnappers and those who gather sticks on the sabbath. That is just naming a few of the offences. And what about the genocide God commanded? And what about males getting their foreskins cut off as babies when they could not speak for themselves and when there was a risk of infection in those disease-ridden perilous times? Jesus took responsibility for writing this bloodletting material for he said he agreed with the Old Testament and that it was God’s infallible word. Jesus if he claimed to be God claimed to be the divine author. Also Jesus said that the Old Testament would not be done away but toughened up and that whoever relaxed its rules would be cursed in the kingdom of Heaven. He never ever said the rules were wrong. There is no evidence that they were only temporary laws and that Jesus did away with them. If he let them fall into disuse that is not doing away with them. We must remember too that evil has to look good to succeed so don’t chip in with, “But the Christian is such a nice person despite his belief in the Bible.” Human nature is notorious for enabling evil with a smile. A truly decent person does not even contemplate honouring an evil book as the word of God. He throws it away. The good bits are a reason for rejecting it not accepting it. Something that advocates good and teaches good and then teaches its opposite is worse than something that means well but does little else but damage. Evil needs to be softened by having lots of good put into the mix. That way it does more harm than shamelessly blatant and undiluted evil.