Prosecuting a Christian preacher for comments criticising Islam is completely wrong, an atheist journalist has said.
Suzanne Breen said those who disagree with James McConnell’s comments should enter into debate, not try to close it down.
“Freedom of speech isn’t only for polite persons of mild disposition airing their views within Government-policed parameters”, she said.
Breen’s comments came as McConnell appeared in court yesterday charged over statements he made in a sermon that was made available online.
He said: “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell”.
But Breen said that McConnell did not “incite hatred or encourage violence against any Muslim”, he expressed his view about Islam.
“Defending Pastor McConnell’s right to say what he said doesn’t mean approving or embracing his sentiments”, she wrote for the Belfast Telegraph.
Criticising others in Northern Ireland who have not defended the preacher, she said: “In any democracy worth its salt, freedom of speech isn’t a luxury for your friends, it’s a necessity for your enemies.”
“A septuagenarian, so spirited and defiant in the face of such an onslaught, surely deserves the support of all of us who respect the rights of freedom of expression”, she commented.
Freedom of speech isn’t only for polite persons of mild disposition airing their views within Government-policed parametersSuzanne Breen
“True tolerance permits dissent”, Breen wrote.
Ahead of the court hearing, McConnell said he was not afraid of going to prison, saying: “I will go for the sake of the Gospel”.
McConnell also made clear that he does not have any animosity towards Muslims: “To every ordinary Muslim out there, I want to say to them that I love them, that I pray for them and if they are in need or in any bother, I am there for them.
“They are welcome to my church and welcome to hear God’s Word.”
Next court date
The 78-year-old is being prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003 for “sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive”.
On Thursday District Judge Amanda Henderson set the next court date for 3 September.