Preacher In Northern Ireland Arrested For Calling Islam Satanic In Sermon

wesley_preach_470x352We have been discussion how England has seen the rise of calls for speech prosecutions. The trend appears to be accelerating under David Cameron. While seen across Europe, this trend has been especially pronounced free speech rights in the Westin England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). In one of the most vivid examples of the decline of free speech in England, an evangelical preacher named James McConnell, 78, from Northern Ireland has been charged criminally for calling Islam “satanic.” The preacher is charged with spreading a “grossly offensive” message for what should be considered (and protected) as religious and political speech.

In a May 2014 sermon, James McConnell told worshippers at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle that “Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic.” The sermon attracted attention online and led to a charge based on transmitting an offensive message over an electronic communications network. Such statements can and should be denounced as sweeping and offensive. However, the prosecution of such views represents a far greater danger for a free nation.

Nevertheless Prosecutor David Russell told Belfast Magistrates’ Court that the case had “nothing to do with religion or freedom of expression.” I am not sure what is more chilling, the prosecution or the prosecutor’s utter lack of recognition of free speech implications of the case. Russell insisted that criminal charges are warranted because McConnell “characterizes the followers of an entire religion in a stereotypical way. And that’s grossly offensive and that’s not protected from saying it from a pulpit.”

So that is what has become of free speech in England. A preacher can be arrested for declaring other religious practices or beliefs as evil. Indeed, it is apparently enough to “characterize the followers of an entire religion in a stereotypical way.”

England remains one of two greatest concentrations of readers for our blog. There is a sizable civil liberties community in England but they are under attack by a rising number of citizens who want to regulate and punish unpopular speech. It is precisely what religious extremists like ISIS have long demanded from the West. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.

Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech.  We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.

These cases reflect the true purpose of blasphemy laws: to silence minority sects and religious critics in the name of a “true faith.” Fortunately the effort of Hillary Clinton and others in the Administration to reach a compromise on blasphemy failed, though there continue to be efforts to create an international standard.

However, even after declaring themselves “friends of Charlie” in the aftermath of the Hebdo killings, Western leaders are rounding up those who might infuriate religious extremists or trigger another spate of violence. Free speech was once the very touchstone of Western civilization and civil liberties. A person cannot really defame a religion or religious figures (indeed, you cannot defame the dead in the United States). The effort to redefine criticism of religion as hate speech or defamation is precisely what editors and writers at Charlie Hebdo fought to resist (and died defending). The West has simply fallen out of love with free speech, which is now treated inconvenient and destabilizing for society. However, those currently curtailing the free speech of others may find themselves silenced by the shifting definitions and whims of speech regulation.

38 thoughts on “Preacher In Northern Ireland Arrested For Calling Islam Satanic In Sermon”

  1. This guy needs to look in his own back yard before slandering others. Who is he to judge anyone….Obviously he does not practice what he preaches. Shame on him…This world is for everyone to share….The radical so called Christian is no better than that of any other Radical group. Makes me sick.

  2. Max-1,

    Comrade Max, you just enjoyed freedom of speech in a fascist nation, according to you.

    Those pesky American Founders sure didn’t want the People to have any say or bearing, huh?

    How does that work?

    Communists, new religion – New Age Greenies, anti-American-anti-Colonialists and anarchists everywhere

    have the floor in ubiquitous public forums throughout fascist America.

    How does that work?

    Wouldn’t fascists and whacktionary reactionaries be mutually exclusive – terminally so?

  3. Mr. Turley,
    The company you attract is a Fascist crowd.
    The company you keep is a Fascist crowd.


  4. Islam has a “spirit”…evil spirit…it is a demonic religion, it’s followers are mostly savages…brutes

  5. An even more worrisome trend could be that a person is expressing a view the government does not like, expecting it to be a private conversation between two individuals out doors and a third party secretly tapes it and pushes it onto the Internet. Then, the person making the statement is prosecuted for incitement of hatred over the internet. I suspect this will be a future problem in NI and England. So even if a church closed its doors to the public but one parishioner made a video and posted it to the internet it would trigger a violation of the law.

    This will be a worse problem than censorship driving the press underground.

  6. The Allied bombings of Germany and the US bombing of Japan were frankly called terror bombings and deliverately targeted civilians with indiscriminate weapons. I am not sure why anybody thinks the US is not willing to use “terror” tactics since then or that the US ever stopped.

    How about “we have to destroy the village to save it.” does that sound like terror?

    Other nations use terror too, that is, unjust violence targeting noncombattants, but only the US pretends that it is so holier than thou.

    Anyhow the topic is not the US it is the UK and the wimpy prosecutors protecting the Muslims from getting their feelings hurt by this firebrand preacher. Here we see liberalism’s ideology gives way to its master, that global capitalism which usually is always insisting on more freedom and insulting Christians. Global capitalism does not want to offend Muslims (nor Jews for that matter) so they will get a pass where Christians do not.

    The formerly Christian nations of the West are now explicitly atheist and secularist and the “Defensor Fidelis” has done nothing of the sort. She is as bad a “Defensor” as the pillager of the Church, Henry VIII.

  7. Since I’ve got my dear friend karen here, whom I miss a great deal, I’ll take the opportunity to ask her again to please enlighten us about her views on extremism. Her views are very insightful, and I think we all could use to know and learn from them.
    Being a bit shy, she is very reluctant to stand out, but hey, it is for the greater good, especially since she started the conversation.

    karen said to Po:
    Do you consider crashing a van deliberately into a civilian bus stop, hitting people, and then jumping out with a knife to stab a woman with a baby a terrorist attack? Yes or now. And this time answer the question.
    Po answered:
    yes, I do!
    Do YOU consider the bombing of hospitals, of schools, of ambulances, the dropping of a missile on 4 kids playing on the beach, the lighting of a sleeping family on fire a terrorist act? Yes or no?

  8. Nick, are you, in the name of protecting one constitutional right, calling for the undermining of another?!

  9. “Sometimes free speech is not worth the trouble it can cause.” That ignorantly dangerous statement should be grounds for revocation of citizenship and voting rights! How did he pass the citizenship test? Must have lied like Malik.

  10. From my perspective, attacks against freedom of speech and expression are part and parcel of the war against truth. Free speech promotes knowledge and understanding, and those who hate truth are constantly enraged that others might share their knowledge and viewpoints. With a free exchange of ideas, the ideas of those you hate truth are invariably shunned, which they take very badly.

  11. Sadly, the British mood has gained momentum on college campuses throughout the land.

  12. If we applied such standards to everyone, on any topic ranging from politics to sports teams, then the media would be unable to complete a sentence. How many times have we seen sweeping statements about the GOP, Big Business, the Left, Libertarians, women, men, priests, the religious, cops, pro-life, pro-choice, and various sports teams on this very blog, let alone the rest of the Internet and mass media?

    Do we really want to go down that path? Criminalize negative speech? How many people on this blog would be prosecuted? What will this do to the discussion of polarizing topics?

  13. This is why I oppose anti-blasphemy laws and any other restrictions on free speech here in the US. We can see the result of a lack of or erosion of these rights in other nations. This is also why the standard for inciting a riot is so very high. Making someone really mad is not enough. Otherwise the defense, my wife said something that pissed me off so I decked her, would stand up in court.

    If such anti-blasphemy laws existed here, the discussion of the Catholic pedophilia scandal would be essentially mute.

  14. po

    That’s all that I’m saying. It is sacred but at the same time cannot be omnipotent. “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.” Pogo. “We are the god to which we pray.” I said that.

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