From the UK Guardian
By Henry McDonald
A Muslim academic has spoken outside a Belfast court in support of a born-again Christian pastor who is on trial after denouncing Islam as “satanic” and “heathen”.
Pastor James McConnell is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act over his anti-Islam remarks during a controversial sermon at his church in Newtonabbey, County Antrim, last year.
The 78-year-old evangelical Protestant preacher faces two charges – improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network – because his remarks, made at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, in north Belfast, were posted on the internet.
But speaking outside Belfast magistrates court to hundreds of McConnell’s supporters, Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said he was in the city to back McConnell’s right to free speech.
Hussaini said: “This is possibly one of the most important things at our juncture in history; it could be the make or break for the continued survival of our planet actually.
“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is therefore a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.
“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”
Hussaini added that the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland had “done us a great disservice by wasting public money and time on this particular issue”.
Among others who turned up to support him was the prominent Belfast Catholic priest Patrick McCafferty.
On his way into the court McConnell said: “It’s a good day for a hanging – particularly to hang the prosecution.”
Three days have been set aside for the hearing, which will examine a 30-second clip of a 45-minute sermon he delivered to his church.
If found guilty, McConnell could face up to six months in prison or a heavy fine, which he has vowed not to pay.