Judge rejects bid to end pastor's free-speech trial

From the BBC

A judge has rejected an application to stop the trial of an evangelical preacher accused of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam.

Pastor James McConnell, 78, of Shore Road, Newtownabbey denies two charges relating to a sermon he gave in a church last year.

The judge said he was not convinced that there were no circumstances under which the preacher could be convicted.

He held that Pastor McConnell had a case to answer.

The defence's application to halt proceedings was made on the second day of the trial at Belfast Magistrates Court.

It came at the end of the prosecution case, when a defence barrister said he believed the pastor had no case to answer.

He argued that Pastor McConnell's criticism of Islam in a sermon last year was covered by legal protection for freedom of expression.

He also pointed to the fact that the pastor had shown "genuine remorse" if his comments had caused offence to Muslims.

Earlier, the court was played a tape recording of an interview Pastor McConnell took part in on Talkback on BBC Radio Ulster in June this year.

In it, he said he had no regrets about his sermon but said he was sorry if Muslims had been hurt by what he said.

Pastor McConnell is charged with 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.

The trial began on Monday and is expected to conclude on Wednesday.

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