A Belfast pastor has been found not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks during a sermon in which he described Islam as “heathen”. Pastor James McConnell called the religion “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” during a sermon broadcast online. He had always maintained it was his right to free speech and a judge has agreed. Delivering his verdict, District Judge Liam McNally said: “The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances. “Accordingly I find Pastor McConnell not guilty of both charges.” He added: “If he had clarified this in his sermon and set out in a clear and precise way why Sharia law was repugnant to him he could have saved himself a lot of trouble.”


The 78-year-old faced two charges – 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 – after the comments made from the pulpit of his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 18 2014 were streamed online. During the case, the judge was shown a DVD recording of the entire religious service during which the controversial sermon was made, including gospel singing, scripture reading and prayer. In it McConnell also said he did not trust Muslims. Prosecutors said the pastor was not on trial for his beliefs but alleged the “straightforward” case centred on his carefully chosen words which they claimed were “grossly offensive”.


Giving evidence in his defence, McConnell said he had not intended to provoke, hurt or offend Muslims but was unrepentant for preaching the gospel. He also revealed that he had turned down a lesser punishment of an informed warning because he did not want to be “gagged”. Several hundred evangelical Christian supporters attended each day of the hearing to show solidarity with McConnell. Peter Lynas, national director of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, said: “The verdict is a victory for common sense and freedom of speech. However, until the law is changed or clear guidance is issued, there will still be concern about further prosecution. “The Public Prosecution Service need to explain why this case was brought and assure everyone that this will not happen again.


“This case contains challenges to both the State and the Church. It is vital that the State does not stray into the censorship of church sermons or unwittingly create a right not to be offended. “Meanwhile, the Church must steward its freedom of speech responsibly, so as to present Jesus in a gracious and appealing way to everyone.” When considering the remarks about mistrusting Muslims, Judge McNally said he had taken the preacher’s good character into account. He added: “He is a man with strong, passionate and sincerely held beliefs. In my view Pastor McConnell’s mindset was that he was preaching to the converted in the form of his own congregation and like-minded people who were listening to his service rather than preaching to the worldwide internet.


“His passion and enthusiasm for his subject caused him to, so to speak, ‘lose the run of himself’.” Outside court, hundreds of supporters cheered as Pastor McConnell emerged. Some sang hymns as the preacher gave his reaction to the judgment. “I am very happy,” he said. He added that he give the sermon again, though he would word it differently. “The only regret I have is the response from the Muslim community – that I was out to hurt them,” he said. “There was no way I was out to hurt them – I wouldn’t hurt a hair on their head. “But what I am against is their theology and what they believe in. “If there are Muslims out there, I want to assure them I love them and, if they need help, I am there to help them, but their theology and their beliefs I am totally against them.”


Source: Premier News Service

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is never shy about voicing his strongly conservative opinions about the role of religion in American society, and he has once again made headlines with what he called a “sermon” in which he said the U.S. Constitution can favour religion over “non-religion.” In fact, Scalia told a gathering at a Catholic high school near New Orleans recently, “one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honour.  Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke his name, we do him honour. In presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways,” he said in a brief talk at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, according to various news reports.


“There is nothing wrong with that, and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that,” added Scalia, a Catholic. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond introduced Scalia to the crowd of about 600 that had gathered for an annual celebration of religious freedom. In his brief remarks, Scalia said that the principle of religious neutrality has been twisted by jurists since the 1970s to mean that traces of religion must be banished in favour of a purely secular public square. He called that idea “absurd.” “To tell you the truth, there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?” he said. “To be sure, you can’t favour one denomination over another. But we can favour religion over non-religion”


Scalia said justices should follow the customs and common experiences of the American people on matters of faith more than “abstract principles.”  He said that if the American people at some point decide they want to “impose” secularism on the U.S., “I don’t have a problem with that as long as it is done democratically.” But, he added, “Don’t cram it down the throats of an American people who have always honoured God on the pretext that the Constitution requires it.” Scalia, 79, was appointed in 1986 by President Reagan and is the high court’s longest-serving justice. He frequently makes headlines with comments in speeches as well as from the bench. His latest remarks whilst drawing fire from some, was also supported by fellow conservatives.


“I hope Scalia … lives to be a hundred and ten, and dies on the bench, fighting,” columnist Rod Dreher, who attended the talk, wrote at the American Conservative. “Scalia is right to say that there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the government to be neutral about religion,” said William Donohue of the Catholic League. In addition to a decision on affirmative action, the Supreme Court this year is set to rule on a number of key cases of great interest to faith groups, including the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act that some religious groups say forces them to allow employees to get health insurance coverage for birth control and for prescriptions that they say can cause abortions.



Source: Religion News Service

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A new report demonstrates “unprecedented” “ISIS-related mobilization” in the United States. The report, “ISIS in America,” released by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism was authored by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes. Dr. Vidino, director of the Program, has held positions at the Kennedy School of Government, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the RAND Corporation, and the Centre for Security Studies (ETH Zurich). “ISIS-related mobilization in the United States has been unprecedented,” the report states in its executive summary. While the presence in the U.S. is not as large as many countries, some 250 Americans have travelled or attempted to travel to Syria/Iraq to join the Islamic State and there are 900 active investigations against ISIS sympathizers in all 50 states.


Seventy-one individuals have been charged with ISIS-related activities since March 2014. Fifty-six have been arrested in 2015 alone, a record number of terrorism-related arrests for any year since 9/11. The report provides a fascinating profile of ISIS sympathizers in the U.S.: Of those charged, the average age is 26 and 86% are male. Their activities were located in 21 states. Fifty-one percent travelled or attempted to travel abroad. 27% were involved in plots to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. The report reveals that individuals involved in ISIS-related activities in the U.S. differ widely in race, age, social class, education, and family background. “Their motivations are equally diverse and defy easy analysis,” the report states.


Social media including Facebook and Twitter plays a crucial role in the radicalization and mobilization of U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers. The Program on Extremism has identified some 300 American sympathizers active on social media, spreading propaganda, and interacting with like-minded individuals. “Some members of this online echo chamber eventually make the leap from keyboard warriors to actual militancy,” the report notes. “American ISIS sympathizers are particularly active on Twitter, where they spasmodically create accounts that often get suspended in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. ISIS-related radicalization is not limited to social media. Some cultivated and later strengthened their interest in ISIS through personal relationships. “In most cases online and offline dynamics complement one another.”


Source: God Reports

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Protestant and Catholic leaders in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua have denounced a series of killings that occurred last month and have urged an end to the violence in the troubled region. The first incident occurred December 1 when four separatists were allegedly tortured and shot to death by Indonesian security officers on Yapen Island. In another killing, a Papuan was allegedly shot dead by a soldier on December 20 in Keerom district, which borders Papua New Guinea. The Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman, chairman of the Communion of Baptist Churches in Papua, expressed concerned about the shootings. “These shootings are ignoble acts and cruel crimes. We denounce such incidents. The government must end them,” he told on January 2.


Yoman added that on December 8, four students were killed ¬ and many others injured ¬ when security forces opened fire on a crowd of Papuans who were protesting the beating of a child, allegedly by soldiers. “All those shootings are part of the state’s intelligence operations because they want to get a reaction. The state wants to label Papuans as criminals and separatists,” Yoman said. Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, said the shootings are a clear indication of the unresolved conflict between the Indonesian government and indigenous West Papuans, particularly those who support the Free Papua Movement. Father Tebay,  said such shootings have been part of the circle of violence that has been evident since Papua was made part of Indonesia in 1962.


“Violence is paid with violence,” said Father Tebay, adding that the Indonesian government and the Free Papua Movement should instead join in dialogue to find a solution to the conflict. Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that the Indonesian police must conduct a thorough investigation into the shootings. Three police officers were shot dead by a group of armed men stealing weapons and ammunition from Sinak Police Station in Puncak district on December 26. Harsono, said the Free Papua Movement have claimed responsibility for these shootings. Papua Police Chief Inspector Gen. Paulus Waterpauw said that all of these shootings are under investigation.



Source: Uniting Church in Australia

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The BBC is reporting that Islamic State (IS) has lost 40% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq.  Col Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US-led coalition battling the jihadist group, told reporters that IS was “on the defensive”, and had “not gained one inch in Iraq since May.” It had also been driven out of 20% of its territory in Syria, he added. IS however has continued to launch counter-offensives – including several near the western Iraqi city of Haditha. Col. Warren said coalition air strikes had helped Iraqi government forces repel an assault by about 200 militants, and that more than 100 had been killed. He did not give a figure for government casualties. The BBC went on to say that Haditha Mayor Mabrouk Hamid said the IS counter-offensive had involved more than 40 armoured vehicles some of them filled with explosives. 


Col. Warren said IS had shifted its focus to Haditha, situated near a key dam in the north, after losing control of the provincial capital Ramadi. “In June 2014, IS seized large parts of northern and western Iraq, and proclaimed the creation of a caliphate stretching across the border with Syria,” said the BBC. Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces – supported by Shia militiamen, Sunni tribesmen and coalition air strikes – have since regained more than 20,000 sq. km, according to the coalition. IS militants have also been driven out of the city of Tikrit, but they continue to control Mosul in the north. In Syria, the jihadists have been losing ground to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, rebel groups, and Kurdish militia fighters. But they have also been able to capture new territory, including the city of Palmyra.



Source: ASSIST News Service

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North Korea has topped the list of countries where Christians are most at risk of persecution for the fourteenth year in a row. The charity Open Doors said the persecution of believers across the world was “more extreme than ever before”. Its annual report found religious fundamentalism was ‘sweeping’ the world, with around 70,000 Christians jailed in North Korea. “Persecution levels have been rapidly rising. This year, a country had to score 50 per cent more points than in 2013 to even make it onto the list,” said CEO Lisa Pearce. The study found that well over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide because of their beliefs. North Korea remains the worst place to be a Christian while Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian. Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa’ due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number three.


Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan are the next most difficult places for Christians. The biggest rises in persecution were found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Eritrea. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system, and while the lowest ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, this year’s lowest ranking country had 53 points – an increase of more than 50 per cent. It found persecution in India has risen dramatically for the third year running. Analysis by Open Doors researchers found that the religious freedom of over 200 million people is severely threatened by a new wave of Hindu nationalist electoral successes that have seen the introduction of anti-conversion laws. Most Christians killed for their faith were from sub-Saharan Africa. Syria is the largest displacement crisis globally. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war – now Open Doors estimates less than 60,000 remain, with families leaving every day.

Source: Premier News Service

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The Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic has issued a landmark ruling overturning a law pushed through by President Danilo Medina for violating the Caribbean nation’s pro-life constitution. The new law, which had been personally advocated by the president as part of a broader revision of the criminal code, introduced a paragraph that would have allowed abortion to be legalized in cases of rape, incest or in those cases that doctors deemed the preborn child to be suffering from illnesses or disabilities which rendered them “incompatible with life.” After the president signed the law in December 2014, two non-profit organizations, the Fundacion Matrimonio Feliz and the Fundacion Justiciay Transparencia filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.


The two groups argued primarily that the law violated the constitutional protection of Article 37 of the Dominican Republic’s constitution, which guarantees the right to life as inviolable from conception to death. The full decision has not yet been published but a press release issued by the Court has summarized its decision. The organizations that brought the challenge also pointed out the irregularities in the process that was used to push through the law. The Dominican Republic’s constitution requires both chambers of the legislature to approve laws before they can be sent to the president for his signature, however in this case only one of the chambers approved the legislation before the President signed it into law.


Source: LifeSiteNews

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Two Australian Christian Missionaries, a doctor and his wife Ken & Jocelyn Elliott, who are understood to be in their 80’s, are believed to have been kidnapped in northern Burkina Faso by forces associated with al-Qaida, near the border with Mali, according to the West African nation’s security ministry. The kidnapping appears to have occurred around the same time that an al-Qaida raid on a hotel in Burkina Faso occurred in which at least 23 people were killed. It is not known whether the two incidents are related. The couple have lived in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa since 1967 and in Burkina Faso since 1972, serving as health care missionaries. Their son Stephen Elliott is pastor of a church on Christmas Island. Prayer for the missing couple and their family would be appreciated at this time.


Ken and Jocelyn Elliott are affiliated with Sudan Interior Mission.  They have three children, David, Stephen and Judith. Ken did a tropical medicine course in UK and they crossed the Sahara by Land Rover with their children to Djibo in what was then Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and built a hospital, on land granted to them by the government. Since then the hospital has been the main surgical facility in that region. Jocelyn did a course in pathology and has done that also for all these years. In 1980 Ken was the inaugural recipient of the Robert W Pierce award for Christian Service by World Vision. They have received help from many sources over the years including from friends in Australia, Emmanuel International, Oxfam, British Volunteer Abroad, Mennonite Missions and Christoffel Blinden Mission.

Source: Compiled by APN from various reports

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