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User may incur custodial sentence for use of non-court approved words.
August 12, 2003 9:21 AM   Subscribe

In a new twist to a theme discussed earlier on MeFi, on language censorship (but in an entirely different case) the UK might be the first country to jail a man for using a single court-prohibited word in public.
As repellent as the defendant's behaviour was, can such a case of censorship and prohibition of freedom of speech ever be justified?
posted by Blue Stone (36 comments total)

 
From the article, he could also be "prosecuted for behaving anti-socially". Can you imagine such a thing in the U.S.?
posted by jonson at 9:28 AM on August 12, 2003


From the article, he could also be "prosecuted for behaving anti-socially". Can you imagine such a thing in the U.S.?

Yes, but probably only to high schoolers, who don't have rights.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:46 AM on August 12, 2003


Freedom of speech covers racial slurs, too. Too bad this is in the UK.
posted by angry modem at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2003


Let me elaborate more on that, actually. How does outlawing a word even come close to preventing the racist behavior that it stems from? Am I missing something here?

When my mom told me not to use the word Fuck, you know what I did? I just didn't say it around here. Isn't it funny how much of an ignorant parent governments can be sometimes?
posted by angry modem at 9:58 AM on August 12, 2003


Johnson, he wasn't being a hermit, but an asshat. From the first time this was posted, walked away wondering how racist is the UK to different origins immigrants? remember too, the US census questions race

Remember when Princess Di died, the big hoopla about whom she was dating and their race. Now with this anti-Pakistan movement, wonder how do they feel about people from India. There are several Pakistani owned stores in my area, yet most customers make the assumption their origin is India. So, how is a UK person able to distinguish the two w/o asking, singling out the Pakistani?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:07 AM on August 12, 2003


angry modem: You're missing something here.
Under the terms of the order, Guilfoyle was banned from abusing council housing staff and employees of North British Housing, approaching or communicating with witnesses, threatening violence or attempting criminal damage.
I doubt if it will stop him from being a racist (Nobel prize if you manage to find an easy way of doing that) but it will probably prevent the council staff from being threatened &c. in the course of thier jobs which is the point.

I'm not too sure of the freedom aspect of innocent workers having to suffer threats & abuse in the course of what should be a pretty ordinary administrative job.
posted by i_cola at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2003




He's a uniter, not a divider.
posted by rushmc at 10:35 AM on August 12, 2003


From the article, he could also be "prosecuted for behaving anti-socially". Can you imagine such a thing in the U.S.?

yes i can. it is VERY easy, in my state at least, to get a criminal conviction for disorderly conduct.
posted by eastlakestandard at 10:37 AM on August 12, 2003


Outlaw "Paki" and another word will crop up to signify the same ethnic degradation. It's the meaning, not the word, that is the issue. How much would you like to wager that the word "stani" will make an appearance in the fall?
posted by 4easypayments at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2003


Shame on the Brits. We're not perfect here in the US, but we at least have some free speech left.
posted by charlesv at 10:54 AM on August 12, 2003


So, how is a UK person able to distinguish the two w/o asking, singling out the Pakistani?

Offer him some pork.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:55 AM on August 12, 2003


Good thing he's not in Boston. There are tons of packies around here.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:05 AM on August 12, 2003


angry modem: You're missing something here.
Under the terms of the order, Guilfoyle was banned from abusing council housing staff and employees of North British Housing, approaching or communicating with witnesses, threatening violence or attempting criminal damage.

I doubt if it will stop him from being a racist (Nobel prize if you manage to find an easy way of doing that) but it will probably prevent the council staff from being threatened &c. in the course of thier jobs which is the point.

I'm not too sure of the freedom aspect of innocent workers having to suffer threats & abuse in the course of what should be a pretty ordinary administrative job.


I'll agree with that, but it's really this aspect of the article I was referring to:

Guilfoyle, 31, has also been told he could be prosecuted for behaving anti-socially or using insulting, abusive or homophobic language.
posted by angry modem at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2003


Shame on the Brits. We're not perfect here in the US, but we at least have some free speech left.
posted by charlesv at 6:54 PM GMT on August 12

Shame on ... who?
posted by dash_slot- at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2003


We're not perfect here in the US, but we at least have some free speech left.
If you want to live in a world where use of words like Paki can be used in an aggressive manner then that's fine, personally I'm glad this stuff is being treated so seriously. There's a saying; Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Everyone knows that that is fucking bullshit. Words are extremely powerful and can do a massive amount of damage, just because the scars aren't necessarily visible to the naked eye doesn't mean that they don't exist.
posted by chill at 11:46 AM on August 12, 2003


IANAL but I know a few things about Fair Housing Law here in the states. If I have an apartment complex where I know residents are being repeatedly harrassed because of thier race, color, country of origin, religion, sex, age, or familial status ("sexual orientation" is not on the list but in some places is covered by local statute), I have to do something about it or risk having my @$$ sued off. As an employer, I have the same duty to my employees.

If I understand properly, the site in question was owned by a Government entity, and thus if they have the same sorts of rules, the Government has to deal with it. Do you think things would be any different if some klansman in an American public housing project were harassing black neighbors? If a Catholic resident continually preached to a Moslem one or a Jewish one?

Restricting his "free speech" sucks, but then if he doesn't like it they figure he can move.
posted by ilsa at 11:58 AM on August 12, 2003


Unfortunately, and relating to an earlier Mefi story, with Jesus Castillo, the US can behave fascistically, even with the protections of the first amendment.

The Case of Mike Diana, for example. Creator of sick, repulsive and disturbing cartoons:
In 1994, underground cartoonist Mike Diana was thrown in jail for 4 days without bail on obscenity charges, for publishing, advertising, and selling his zine BOILED ANGEL. Mike was on probation for 3 years, terms of which included fines of $3000, no contact with children under 18 (or within 10 feet of a minor), 1280 hours of community service, maintain full time employment, and at his expense, see a psychiatrist and take journalism courses at his own expense; AND no drawing for his own personal use... his home was subject to unannounced searches by local police to make sure he was complying. Mike Diana is now serving another 2 years of probation, including $2000 in fines, and the same probationary terms.


On June 4, 1996, a ruling issued by Largo, Florida, Circuit Judge Douglas Baird declared Mike Diana's zines, Boiled Angel #7 and #ATE as obscene. The judge emphasized throughout Mike's ruling that he personally found Diana's comics "patently offensive." Referring to Diana as "the appellant," and stated, "The evident goal of the appellant's publication is to portray shocking and graphic pictures of sexual conduct so it will be noticed. If the message is about victimization and that horrible things are happening in our society, as the appellant alleges, the appellant SHOULD HAVE created a vehicle to send his message that was not obscene."
"no drawing for his own personal use... his home was subject to unannounced searches by local police to make sure he was complying." .... I mean.... wow.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:18 PM on August 12, 2003


I think this is wrong on two levels: (1) It's questionable whether or not this is a crime and (2) regardless of whether or not it is, prison is absolutely, no question whatesoever the wrong response.

If it is a crime -- on the order of disorderly conduct or breaking landscape covenants or what not -- the punishment should be a light fine at most. I can't imagine why anyone thinks that incarceration is OK for speech of any kind (some "threat" speech I can even maybe see "detainment" for but even that seems like a slippery slope....)
posted by weston at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2003


but we at least have some free speech left.
Is it freedom of speech or freedom to not speak, taking the 5th?
Thought it was freedom of the press as far as words go.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2003


If it is a crime...

It's a crime. He's bound by the terms of an antisocial behaviour order. Breaking those terms is the actual crime; the acts which break those terms don't have to be crimes. Call in the philosophers.

Or: consider it the equivalent of a restraining order, if you like. A violent ex- can be banged up for hanging around the former partner's house, if a court stipulates those terms, even if the act itself is not, on its own, a crime.

And you can disagree with the principle of anti-social behaviour orders, but at least local authorities are now actually using the damn things, five years after they got powers to do so.

(The usual application is against 'teenage tearaways' on council estates, who can't receive much in the way of criminal punishment for individual anti-social -- and criminal -- acts, even if they rack up a string of crimes, but can receive a fairly substantial sentence for breaking the ASBO. It's a sticking plaster for an open wound, though, and classic Daily Mail Home Office policy.)
posted by riviera at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2003


Is it freedom of speech or freedom to not speak, taking the 5th?
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:13 PM on August 12, 2003


What riviera said. It seems as though folks in this thread don't seem to read. You or I could say Paki all we want because we have not previously been found guilty of a crime and been sentenced to an ASBO. We have similar provisions available in US law. For instance my ex-wife is under a court order that she is not allowed to speak Russian to or around our daughter.
posted by filchyboy at 1:32 PM on August 12, 2003


Ovbiously the man in question is not some poor sod who has been leapt upon by the authorities who are trying to impinge upon his right to freely express himself. This man is, as described by the old bill a 'scrote'. For the notoriously (if you happen to be norman tebbit or rupert murdoch) reticent courts to actually flex their muscles in this manner and impose this upon the individual is rather surprising. (then again I don't think making abusive phone calls to hard presssed council employees Guilfoyle also made a series of abusive phone calls to council officials over a housing application. is tolerable). At the end of the day I am afraid that I shall not shed any tears for this infringement upon my freedom of speech. People should not be expected to put up with this moronic and abusive behaviour and if this ameliorates the situation then so much the better. Go crown prosection service (remove tongue from cheek).
posted by johnnyboy at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2003


" For instance my ex-wife is under a court order that she is not allowed to speak Russian to or around our daughter."

Man, the world is an even more screwed up place than I ever realised.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:15 PM on August 12, 2003


Disregarding the gentleman in question, the only proper response is for him to *record* vast amounts of spew, then ship them off to willing accomplices in the US, who would put them on the Internet.

Great diatribes, songs techno mixed with Madonna's "What the Hell do you think you're doing?" with a Sex Pistols soundtrack, endless streams of personalized naughtiness directed at anyone and everyone involved in the whole mess. AND with lots of rants against the EU.

And the repetition of "Paki" to Lenny Bruce extremes.

But, well, this guy's just a scrote. Maybe a better test case.
posted by kablam at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2003


Most of you don't have the faintest idea of the situation here in the UK. But you feel free to pontificate on it. That is your right, but ASBOs are necessary to protect the vulnerable within our society. Whether it's a gang of yobbos throwing bricks at some "Pakis" house or some burberry capped moron feeding dog shit through the letter box of some senior citizen, it needs to be dealt with.

If freedom of speech means the freedom to abuse and intimidate others, then I'm afraid it's dispensable.
posted by squealy at 4:22 PM on August 12, 2003


squealy, you're rather contradicting earlier claims in this thread. The ASBO is supposedly meant to protect against people who have done things in the past which are damaging but not necessarily illegal, but surely throwing bricks or putting excrement in someone's letterbox are illegal acts. So is the ASBO a restraining order of sorts on prior criminals, or is it a civil order against someone who's a, well, scrote, but hasn't committed a crime before?
posted by Dreama at 5:49 PM on August 12, 2003


Definately a brit thing. Certain Swedish, and Korean friends of mine used to take great delight in using the P word around us, just to get a reaction. Still works. Very deep this one. Probably a good thing given the history. Pakistani friend of mine uses it though...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:51 PM on August 12, 2003


So is the ASBO a restraining order of sorts on prior criminals, or is it a civil order against someone who's a, well, scrote, but hasn't committed a crime before?

It's a civil order with the potential for criminal liability, Dreama, which is messy, but that's English law for you. As I said, it's a sticking plaster for the failings of the police and Crown Prosecution Service -- you might know that a particular 'scrote' has a penchant for obscene phone-calls or delivering dogshit, but don't have the manpower or evidence to get a locktight case to court -- and for a messed-up sentencing regime, where your teenage car-thief can ask for 278 offences to be 'taken into consideration' and perhaps get an extra couple of months in a young offenders' institution. So, get an ASBO and you can call in the paddywagon when the 'scrote' is even on the hinterland of crime (or just breaking a curfew). There are better ways to do it by reforming the structure of the criminal justice system, but judging from local newspaper reports quoting relieved residents, ASBOs appear to be doing some kind of good.
posted by riviera at 6:13 PM on August 12, 2003


What's wrong with 'Paki'?
posted by mischief at 7:59 PM on August 12, 2003


What's wrong with 'Paki'?

Go to Brick Lane one night and see.
posted by riviera at 9:12 PM on August 12, 2003


The irony is that "Paki" is an insult in Britain (partly because it's used indiscriminately for any South Asian), while the South Asian press routinely uses "Pak" as short for Pakistan, e.g. in cricket scores. An interesting counter-perspective from Pakistan's Daily Times. What a difference a vowel (and a dollop of context) can make.
posted by dhartung at 10:27 PM on August 12, 2003


It's pathetic. Of course, it's all in the USE of the word, and not the world itself.

Paki is, inherently, no more racist than 'Brit', 'Itai', or 'Nip', which are all shortened country names used to identify their respective citizens.
posted by wackybrit at 1:15 AM on August 13, 2003


The guy's a racist offensive asshat. He can be a racist, offensive asshat all he wants in the privacy of his own home, but when using publicly funded services he's not allowed.

Where's the foul?

This is why not having a written constitution or rigid free speech laws can be a benefit. It cuts down on the asshattery.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got to go and make a jokey threat on the Prime Minister's life, burn a flag and be imprisoned and executed without trial in a US military court


(Did you see what I did there)
posted by fullerine at 2:48 AM on August 13, 2003


If freedom of speech means the freedom to abuse and intimidate others, then I'm afraid it's dispensable.

You take the good, you take the bad...

I believe there are already laws against intimidation that is construed as threatening that have nothing to do with the racial connotations behind them, so the real issue is speech as a concept, not threatening behavior. And allowing biggots free reign over their speech is a far better method of prevention than the state coming in and shielding your eyes and ears. When you go around banning Mein Kampft and swastikas you unfortunately provoke curiosity and adoption purely out of rebelliousness -- "This is banned, so it must be good stuff!" I say just let them out in the open, let the cross-burners wear their ghost costumes and parade down the street in the light of day, and you see them for the fools they really are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:21 AM on August 13, 2003


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