A British preacher from Belfast who's facing prosecution for calling Islam "satanic" and "spawn of the devil" has said that he's willing to go to jail if it's necessary. Other British churches have meanwhile also expressed concerns they might be targeted for their beliefs.
Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast has said that he will plead not guilty to the charge of making a "grossly offensive" statement for his comments in 2014 which were broadcasted online.
McConnell has told the Belfast Telegraph that he does not regret what he said, and is "prepared to go to jail for it if necessary."
Earlier he revealed that the controversial remarks were made in the context of drawing attention to how some followers of Islam have used doctrine as justification for violence.
"I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the Word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning," he said.
Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service has accused the 78-year-old pastor of Islamophobia, however, and said that he will be prosecuted at court for his comments.
"That offense was one of sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive," a PPS spokesman said.
Other church leaders have said that such prosecution is causing them concern.
Peter Lynas, Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "I don't agree with all that pastor McConnell said, but I am deeply concerned about this prosecution for allegedly sending a message that is grossly offensive.
"Many churches will be wary of what they place on the Internet until this case is heard and the law is clarified. This prosecution seems to stretch the Communications Act well beyond what parliament intended."
Lynas added that he believes other churches will also be concerned.
"People will want to be cautious until they see what happens in court, until they get clarity," he said.
"If this prosecution succeeds, it will cause massive ripples. It it fails, people will say, 'Why did this ever go to court? What were they thinking?'"
Free Presbyterian minister the Rev. David McIlveen added: "No church should be under any obligation or pressure to restrain or restrict the message that is coming from the pulpit and has come from that pulpit over many years."
"Whether we are from the Christian, Muslim or Jewish identity, I think all are subject to scrutiny and examination," he continued.
"If we cannot do that without fear of persecution or prosecution then I think we have really gone beyond the pale of civil and religious liberty. We are seeing this as more of an attack upon the Christian faith."
Last week the Rev. Mike Ovey, a former lawyer and now principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London, said that Britain's proposals for new anti-extremist orders could threaten traditional Christian teachings, such as the belief that Jesus is the son of God.
"As a lawyer I think it is a disaster area and as a Christian believer and teacher I think it is a disaster area," said Ovey, who also worked as a parliamentary draftsman in the 1980s. "There has got be a better way to do it."