Freedom of Expression

Legal proceedings against Pastor James McConnell

I wrote about the controversial sermon which has landed McConnell in trouble here.  He described Islam as a metaphysically evil religion and asserted that he didn’t trust Muslims.  It is now being reported that he faces prosecution over his remarks.  (The article on the BBC site doesn’t mention that Muslims, not just Islam, were targeted in the sermon.)

Here’s the apparent legal position at the moment:

A Public Prosecution Service spokesperson said that after considering a complaint about “an internet broadcast of a sermon”, it had decided to “offer an individual an informed warning for an offence contrary to the Communications Act 2003”.

“That offence 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,” they said.

“The offer of an informed warning was refused by the defendant and accordingly the matter is now proceeding by way of a summary prosecution in the magistrates court.”

Looking at the wording of the Act, and then at a definition of a key phrase in the act, ‘public electronics communications network‘, this would seem to indicate that any online material (e.g. a blog) making similar points about Islam/Muslims should be liable for prosecution.  Bigoted and inflammatory though McConnell’s words were, I don’t think they should be outlawed.  As I pointed out in my earlier post about McConnell you can easily find as bad, or worse, remarks made by Muslim preachers.  The fact McConnell uploaded the material himself is apparently a significant factor, so perhaps an analogous (though worse) parallel might be Mizanur Rahman’s speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, which was streamed online to thousands of his followers.

Slugger O’Toole has more on this story here and the NSS covered the case here.