AN EVANGELICAL preacher who branded Islam “satanic” faced a Belfast court yesterday.
Pastor James McConnell pleaded not guilty to two offences under the 2003 Communications Act, which outlaws grossly offensive or menacing public comments, at Belfast magistrates’ court.
Mr McConnell had refused to be tried for a lesser offence in order to take a “principled stand” on free speech.
His supporters gathered outside the court included Democratic Unionist MP Sammy Wilson, a former Northern Ireland finance minister, and members of the Christian Defence League.
Matthew Collins, head of research at anti-racist campaign Hope not Hate, pointed out that a former congregant of Mr McConnell’s church, which attracts 2-3,000 worshippers every Sunday, was Paul Golding of Britain First.
“The Protestant unionist community feels under pressure about its beliefs and traditions in the last two to three years, in particular with this case, the ‘gay cake,’ the gay-marriage referendum in the republic and the flags issue,” said Mr Collins.
“Some see it as an attack on their religious beliefs and traditions.”