The trial for the evangelical Irish pastor James McConnell is gaining international attention, and well it should be. He is charged with making “grossly offensive” comments from his pulpit, statements that went out as a broadcast over the internet. Hence, the charge specifically reads, “improper use of a public electronic communications network.”
This begs the question, what were these comments that were so offensive they call this man to be brought up on criminal charges? It’s no surprise in our current political climate that the comments in question have to do with Islam. McConnell referred to the religion as “satanic” and “heathen.”
I’m not going to opine on the Muslim religion here. I am going to rant about freedom of speech. If it’s not protected in the pulpit, it’s not protected anywhere.
I’m not sure if Northern Ireland has a First Amendment, per say. But they are a part of the United Kingdom, whose political heritage claims the Magna Carta, John Locke and the balancing power of Parliament. We’re talking about the soil upon which the notion of individual liberty budded. It is in McConnell’s natural right as human being within a supposedly democratic and free society to preach what he desires from the pulpit.
I can see McConnell not being able to make such comments in Saudi Arabia without legal (and perhaps lethal) repercussions. But for him not to be able to say what he said in Northern Ireland is a slap in the face to freedom. Shame on the government of Northern Ireland.
Shame on them because freedom of speech covers offensive speech. After all, anyone’s opinion will inevitably offend someone. To prohibit “offensive” speech is to ban talking all together.
But of course, banning all speech is not the intent. Banning certain kinds of speech made by certain individuals is. McConnell’s evangelical opinions are condemned. But what about the imams in Northern Ireland who preach that Christianity is “satanic” and that western civilization is the “Great Satan”? Maybe I missed the simultaneous trials going on targeting Muslim clerics who’ve made “offensive” statements against Christianity.
This is nothing less than selective enforcement. Only particular religions and groups enjoy free speech.
The spin placed upon this case by the courts is this: because the statements went out over the internet, they are liable for prosecution. I thought speech was still free on the internet. I guess not.
I’m a Christian. I’m an evangelical. I often preach from a pulpit. And I say what I feel God lays upon my heart. If I were to heed the social critics, I would hang my head in shame. I would apologize for what I believe. I would put duct tape over my mouth and grovel at the feet of political correctness.
But I’m not going to do any of that.
I wrote The Hidden Altar back in 2009 (but didn’t publish it until 2012). One of the main characters is an American pastor who is charged under anti-terrorism laws for a comment he inadvertently makes from the pulpit. I’ve had people that read the novel tell me they really enjoyed the story, but the scenario seemed unrealistic.
When I read an article like this, it only confirms to me that in fact The Hidden Altar’s story-line is not fantastical. We’re seeing it happen right now.
At risk of getting preachy here, I have to ask. Where do you stand on this issue? Will you tolerate the selective persecution of free speech? Will you remain silent? Today it’s some unknown Irish pastor. Tomorrow it will be an American pastor. Soon enough, it will be you.