NAACP, KKK pair up in Texas case

By Jen Bland

“Free speech for me, but not for thee,” continues to echo in the courts of this country.

In one of the latest examples of this double-standard, Anthony Griffin, an African-American lawyer in Galveston, Texas, has taken a case defending the Grand Dragon of a Texas-based branch of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Since his decision to take on this case, it has been proposed that Griffin be dismissed as general counsel of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sept. 3, the head of the NAACP said, “We think it’s inconsistent that someone has an association with them and with us.”

The state of Texas is asking the Grand Dragon to relinquish the KKK’s membership list and other documents pertaining to the organization. The Grand Dragon has refused.

“I don’t like the Klan,” Griffin said. “But if I don’t stand up and defend the Klan’s right to free speech, my right to free speech will be gone.”

James Alfini, dean of the College of Law, said he agrees with Griffin’s defense of the dragon. “Some of the greatest in the profession (of law) has been when people uphold the principle that everyone deserves equal representation,” Alfini said.

Alfini pointed to a Skokie case, (Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party) as an example. This case involved an Illinois Nazi who wanted to hold a parade in a predominantly Jewish part of town.

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was Jewish, but he still defended the right to have the parade.

“If we want to preserve our own rights, we must defend the rights of others no matter how objectionable,” Alfini added.

But not everyone supported Griffin’s choice.

Admasu Zike, director of the Center for Black Studies, said he doesn’t agree with Griffin’s decision. “I’m not a relativist on free speech—there are parameters,” Zike said.

He said he doesn’t believe the dragon qualifies for freedom of speech. The things the KKK says and advocates are not protected by freedom of speech, he said.

NIU Judicial Office Director Larry Bolles said Griffin’s decision is legal, but in bad taste. “If someone shot your grandmother, how would you feel if your brother defended him,” Bolles said.

“He has legal sense, but no common sense,” Bolles said.

But Richard Digby-Junger, assistant jounalism professor, held a contrary opinion. He said the point of having free speech is that it must be protected even in cases where it is unpopular.

“There’s an irony here,” Digby-Junger said. “Freedom of speech is protected as long as it’s okay with me, but when it hurts me, it’s not okay and that’s obviously what some of these people are saying.”

Digby-Junger said, “Someone needs to defend the dragon and it might as well be someone who understands where he’s coming from.”

Marcus Lee, head of the NIU chapter of the NAACP refused to comment on the issue.