Thursday 7 January 2016

Earlier this year James McConnell, the pastor of the Whitewell Tabernacle Church in Belfast, was prosecuted for grossly offensive speech. He had preached a sermon in which he described Islam as Satanic, and the sermon was being relayed for listening beyond the Church.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland tripped over itself in its haste to prosecute McConnell under a Communications Act. The action received much publicity in press radio and television.

This week he was found not guilty by a judge, who said whilst the words might be considered offensive, they were not grossly so. A Muslim Imman Mr Al Hussaini, gave evidence on McConnell’s behalf, saying whilst the words were hurtful he had right under free speech to make them. What a pity the zealots on the Equality bandwagon were not so sensible and tolerant, and lived in the real world.

Mr Al Hussaini condemned censorship of discussion on "the really dangerous phenomenon of rising, religiously motivated violence, persecution and extremism".He said: "When we see the heinous persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other parts of the world, to constrain the theological discussion that we need to have as a country and as a world on these questions actually worsens community tensions.

"We need to create an environment where we can talk quite frankly about these questions and in so doing, we need to defend civil society's role in this and not allow a creeping judicial role in constraining debate and discussion."

What is so disappointing yet revealing, is the lack of publicity by press radio and television of the not guilty verdict. You can be sure there would not have been the same dearth of notice if the verdict had gone the other way. Remember the widespread publicity given to the bakers in the same country prosecuted by the same zealots when they were convicted.

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