A Northern Ireland pastor has today been found not guilty of using “grossly offensive” words during a sermon made available online.
Pastor James McConnell was on trial for comments he made about Islam. Speaking today, he made clear that he was standing against Islam as a belief, rather than individual Muslims.
Giving his decision, District Judge Liam McNally said the courts should be cautious of clamping down on speech – even if some found it “contemptible”.
The National Secular Society said that while it ‘strongly disagreed’ with McConnell’s words, the ruling was a “welcome reassertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
McConnell was being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act for saying in a sermon: “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell”.
Speaking after the result, McConnell said that he loved Muslims, but he was against “their theology and their beliefs”. READ MORE
A former Tory minister has said that in a “true democracy” people shouldn’t be forced to uphold something they don’t believe in, following news that a Christian bakery is facing legal action for refusing to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
Writing in the Daily Express, Ann Widdecombe said it “never occurred” to her that a baker might be at risk of not being able to operate if they have a conscientious objection to redefining marriage.
“If the baker had refused merely to bake a cake because the customer was gay then that would indeed have been both unpleasant and illegal but the refusal was specific to the message requested for the cake.
“Surely it is an elementary feature of true democracy that nobody should be obliged by law to affirm that which he or she does not believe”, she added.
Widdecombe highlighted the repeated reassurances given to Parliament that introducing gay marriage “would not cause discrimination against those who believed it wrong”.
“What price your assurances now, Mr Cameron?” she poses.
Marriage has not been redefined in Northern Ireland – the Assembly has voted three times in less than two years against same-sex marriage.
Widdecombe said: “In a free country the baker should be able to refuse to take part in what is effectively PR for gay marriage in the knowledge that any customers who do not like that decision are free to buy their morning loaf elsewhere.
“But then it is a long time since Britain and freedom were synonymous”, she concluded.
Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland hit the headlines this week after its Christian owners, the McArthur family, declined to produce a cake in support of gay marriage.
The manager of the business, Daniel McArthur, said they are happy to bake cakes for anyone, but could not fulfil that particular order as it clashed with the ethos of the business.
He said: “We are Christians and our Christianity reaches to every point of our lives, whether that’s at home or in the day-to-day running of the business.”
The Newtownabbey-based bakery is understood to have been sent a letter from the Equality Commission threatening legal action if it refuses to print the icing on the cake.
Ashers Baking Co in Northern Ireland, where gay marriage is not legal, is said to be run by Christians who refused the order because it went against the directors’ religious beliefs.
The Christian Institute, which said the request for the cake was made in May by a “volunteer LGBT activist”, said it is supporting the bakery because “the case proves the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly held beliefs”.
The charity added: “When the order came through to the head office, the manager and directors decided to decline the request on conscience grounds, and offered a full refund.”
The Equality Commission is reported to have told the firm that not printing the cake amounts to discrimination.