A man who admitted posting online footage of himself dressed in a Ku Klux Klan costume to stir The widening divide between the United States and England over free speech was captured vividly in the case this case of Christopher Philips who was sent to jail for conduct that would have been viewed as hateful but protected in the United States. Philips was charged with appearing in three YouTube videos dressed as a klansman and posing with a life-sized golliwog doll (a type of rag doll depicting a black person). He is the latest person convicted for “giving offense” in England. Indeed, he pleaded guilty because, as Judge John Warner noted, “It does not require advanced education or knowledge of history to know what you were seeking to convey might cause offense.”
Formerly known as Darren Clifft, Philips has Asperger’s and diagnosed emotional illness that is directly related to act that can be deemed socially unacceptable. Yet, he was still sentenced under a law that criminalized offense and inflammatory speech.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. The contrast in this case is remarkable. While the Court did rule that states could criminally prosecute some cross burnings that threaten others in Black v. Virginia, it is entirely protected to wear KKK outfits or have open rallies and engage in other expressive conduct.
What is particularly interested is that the videos were part of political rallies, though Philips was reportedly tossed out of the National Front for extremist views (an unsettling fact for many who view the Front as extremist). Warner went on to support the case against Philips by noting that he admired “notorious figures” in the Klan. Yet, without indicating any sense of self-contradiction, Warner denounced Philips for views that are inimical to freedom and support for “measures of the most extreme nature which I will give no further publicity.” For civil libertarians, the jailing of a person (let alone a mentally ill person) for holding extreme views and favoring “notorious figures” is pretty extreme and scary.
Despite the sentence, Warner insisted that “In our democracy people are allowed to hold extreme, bizarre and offensive views.” Yet, he then proved that such views are a crime when expressed. The distinction that Warner draws is so transparent as to be rather dishonest:
“Parliament has passed laws like this one, under which you have offended, not to prevent or inhibit dissemination of those views but to prevent the dissemination of material which is threatening or offensive and likely to stir up racial hatred.” He does not indicate how Philips could have disseminated his view on racial hate without people being “offended” or “storing up racial hatred.” Just wearing a Klan outfit appears sufficient to satisfy the case. It would be more honest for Warner and others to simply state the obvious: they do not tolerate free speech that the majority finds offensive.
Philips was sentenced to 12 months for acts that, in my view, should have been protected from arrest — let alone conviction.
What do you think?
Source: Daily Mail