A Belfast evangelist charged with hate speech against Muslims has been acquitted after a judge ruled that his sermon had not been sufficiently offensive.

Scores of Christian supporters cheered Tuesday's judgment at Belfast Magistrates Court as Pastor James McConnell walked free. McConnell faced a charge of spreading grossly offensive messages after his church put his May 2014 sermon denouncing Muslims online.

Outside, the 78-year-old McConnell said he hadn't intended to offend Muslims when describing their faith as satanic and many Muslims as terrorists. He said: "I wouldn't hurt a hair on their head."

District Judge Liam McNally said courts must be "careful not to criminalize speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of criminal law to censor offensive utterances."