Retired Pastor James McConnell is waiting to see if his next sermon will be given from a prison pulpit. His crime? On May 18, 2014, the 79-year-old pastor, speaking at the church he founded in Belfast, Ireland, preached a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Pastor McConnell says he wrote that sermon to protest “… the terrible injustice done to a young Muslim woman named Miriam Ibrahim who was converted to Christianity and for marrying a Christian man. Miriam Ibrahim was pregnant and was to receive eighty lashes and possibly martyrdom.”
As WND previously reported, McConnell stated in part of his sermon, “Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
With that public statement, things began to go very wrong for the pastor. Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) determined that McConnell – whose sermon was streamed live on the Internet – violated the 2003 Communications Act by “sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”
Pastor McConnell was taken to trial on the charge last month at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, and the decision of the court is expected on Tuesday.
“I believe, for the prosecution, this is a hot potato,” McConnell said at the time. “They don’t know how to handle it.”
He said he was “looking forward to testifying if they give me a chance. Either they try me and put me in prison or I am free to preach the gospel.”
Hundreds of supporters turned out to stand with the pastor.
His lawyer said before the trial there was a multitude volunteering to speak on behalf of the preacher.
“We have been inundated with scores of potential witnesses who wish to give evidence on behalf of Pastor McConnell,” the lawyer said.
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Speaking to the News Letter on Friday, Pastor McConnell was optimistic, but said that before he will renounce his beliefs, he would prefer imprisonment: “I am willing to go to jail and I am going to stand for what I believe in. If the verdict goes against me – and they do put me in jail – there will be such an uprising in this country.”
McConnell’s legal woes for speaking publicly about Islam are not unique. Government fines and punishments levied against Christians practicing their faith is the norm in many Middle Eastern nations. Some recent examples include:
- Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Farshid Fathi finally released
- Iran arrests nine Christians on Christmas Day for celebrating Jesus Christ
- Christians in Baghdad remain hopeful during Christmas amid genocidal threats
But increasingly, speaking out against Islam from a biblical position is coming into conflict with hate-speech legislation in many Western nations. In 2007, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that “defamation of religion … leads to violations of human rights” and stated that “… freedom of expression … should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations” expressly deploring “the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet … to incite … xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination toward Islam. …”
In 2007, the Ontario Provincial Human Rights Commission, acting on complaints by the Canadian Islamic Congress, opened an investigation of Maclean’s magazine for publishing excerpts of Mark Steyn’s book “America Alone.” Following massive public protest, the case was finally dropped. But in a letter to Maclean’s, Jennifer Lynch, the head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, wrote: “Mr. Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be give free reign [sic]. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred.”
More recently, the Quebec National Assembly has taken up Bill 59 which would assign new powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech, allowing for the censoring of speech that promotes “fear of the other.” The bill would also allow the QHRC to prosecute websites that disparage or denounce Islam. Currently, Bill 59 remains in the Assemblyfor review and amendment.
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The U.S. has seen a large increase in attacks on the right of conscience and association for Christians, especially in the realm of homosexual rights and marriage.
Until recently, the First Amendment right to free speech has blocked attempts by Washington to impose limits on unflattering opinions or descriptions of Islam and of its radical adherents. But this situation may be changing.
In 2013, Bill Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, attended a public meeting in Tullahoma to discuss how combat those who violate Muslim civil rights by posting inflammatory documents targeting Muslims on social media.
“This is an educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion,” Killian told the Tullahoma News. “This is also to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are.”
More recently, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has threatening legal action against any “anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “edges toward violence.”
Last month, 82 Democrat congressional sponsors introduced HR 569. The resolution, which is still in committee, condemns “…violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States” and “… denounces in the strongest terms the increase of hate speech … targeted against mosques, Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim.”
As WND previously noted, the decision that results from the case, which is based on the pastor’s description of Islam as a “doctrine spawned in hell,” could determine whether Christian pastors will be allowed to preach biblical doctrine in the United Kingdom going forward.
Meanwhile Pastor McConnell, one of Ireland’s most popular online evangelists, waits in the church he founded 57 years ago. He remains defiant: “As I have said many times I refuse to be gagged and if necessary will go to prison; but be assured, when I come out I will start again and preach the truth of the gospel! Your prayers are appreciated, but there is Someone very special praying for me and His Name is Jesus. He is my Great High Priest who stands for me and His blood-redeemed people in the presence of God.”