An imam in Northern Ireland is vowing to go to jail with a pastor if he is convicted for describing Islam as "satanic", and a Catholic priest has branded a pending court case as "absurd".
Pastor James McConnell, aged 78, who retired from Whitewell Tabernacle last year, is preparing to answer charges in court under the 2003 Communications Act on August 6, the Belfast Telegraph reported June 24.
The charges stem from a sermon McConnell gave at the north Belfast Tabernacle in which he said: "Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell".
The sermon was streamed on the internet.
The pastor has said he is prepared to go to jail rather than withdraw his remarks despite not being in good health and he is aging.
"I have no regrets about what I said. I do not hate Muslims but I denounce Islam as a doctrine and I make no apologies for that. I will be pleading 'not guilty' when I stand in the dock in August."
He could go to jail for up to six months if he convicted.
The newspaper reported that a London Muslim academic and cleric has pledged to go to jail with the pastor.
Dr. Al-Hussaini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute, said he has "grave concerns" about the prosecution of Pastor McConnell.
The imam noted he "strongly upholds the moral right" for people of all faiths to debate.
He spoke about, "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."
"All honest seekers of God's truth are enjoined to inquire, question and challenge the teachings of religious authority, and to speak prophetically to establishment power even when it means overturning the tables in the Temple.
"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."
"While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God."