An evangelical preacher from Northern Ireland who branded Islam satanic has been charged with spreading a "grossly offensive" message.

In a May 2014 sermon, James McConnell told worshippers at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast: "Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic."

The sermon was streamed online, and 78-year-old McConnell has been charged with transmitting the message over an electronic communications network.

Prosecutor David Russell told Belfast Magistrates' Court Monday that the case had "nothing to do with religion or freedom of expression."

He said McConnell "characterizes the followers of an entire religion in a stereotypical way. And that's grossly offensive and that's not protected from saying it from a pulpit."

McConnell denies the charges, and told police he didn't intend to offend, insult, arouse fear or stir up tension.