Police were wrong to block prominent preacher Louis Farrakhan who once called Jews ‘termites’ from giving a speech at an event in a London park because they breached his human rights, a High Court has ruled.
Members of the Nation of Islam had applied to Lambeth Council for a permit to hold an event in Kennington Park, south London in August 2017.
As part of the event, called the 4th Africa International Day of Action, organisers had planned for the head of the group Louis Farrakhan to make a remote broadcast from the US.
But when concerns were raised by the council’s community safety team and the Metropolitan Police, conditions were placed on the permit preventing Mr Farrakhan from addressing the event in any way.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was hoped to speak at the event in August 2017
What is the Nation of Islam?
The Nation of Islam, founded in Chicago in 1930, combines the religious aspects of Islam with the ideas of both black power and black nationalism.
It teaches that black people are the rulers of earth, who were created first, and who every other race descends from.
Malcolm X was perhaps the most famous Nation of Islam follower, and he convinced Muhammad Ali to join.
Malcolm grew disillusioned with the group, however, and left in 1964: members of the Nation murdered him a year later.
Martin Luther King was among those who criticized the Nation, describing it as racist.
Followers supported the idea of a separate state for African Americans in which they could rely on themselves to provide solutions to their own problems.
Unlike King, who promoted peaceful protest, the leaders of the Nation of Islam thought that violence was justified in self-defence.
Farrakhan, 87, is a known anti-Semite whose remarks on race and religion have sparked controversy in the past.
He was outspoken against Barack Obama, and embraced Donald Trump – to the embarrassment of some of the Trump team.
Most recently, Farrakhan told followers not to get the COVID vaccine.
His supporters are seen by critics as black supremacists, and the Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes the organization as a hate group.
The founder of Nation, Wallace Fard, taught that Christianity was the white man’s religion, and said that Islam was more akin to traditional African beliefs.
Fard said there would be an apocalyptic overthrow of white domination, insisting that the dominion of evil was to end with God’s appearance on earth in the person of Fard.
His followers carried out military-style drills, in readiness for the coming battle.
Fard was succeeded by Elijah Muhammad, who died in 1975 and was succeeded three years later by Farrakhan.
Abdul Hakeem Muhammad, the UK representative of the Nation of Islam, and 33 other attendees brought a claim against the force and council due to the restrictions.
On Monday, Martin Forde QC for the claimants, told the court: ‘Those objections were purportedly based on concerns relating to public order, specifically disorder by those not associated with the event seeking to disrupt it.’
Mr Forde outlined Mr Farrakhan’s speech was going to be about reparations, adding: ‘This discourse has been ongoing and it was thought that he could contribute to it.’
In written arguments, Mr Forde also said: ‘All of the claimants in this case are of black African descent, as were most of the audience.
‘Therefore, the topic of reparations is of considerable importance to many if not most of those who attended the event and more generally one of international consequence.’
The High Court heard Mr Farrakhan was barred from speaking at the event due to the risk of counter-protesters, which the Metropolitan Police later accepted they had failed to balance.
Mr Forde told the court: ‘It is right to say that he is a person who has attracted a degree of historic controversy.’
Louis Farrkhan, who has led the Nation of Islam since the late 1970s, has a long history of making controversial statements and espousing anti-Semitic rhetoric.
He has described Adolf Hitler as ‘a great man’ and repeatedly referred to Jewish people as ‘Satanic’.
In 2018 Mr Farrakhan compared Jews to termites tweeting: ‘I’m not an anti- Semite. I’m anti-Termite.’
In 2019, Mr Farrakhan was one of several figures banned from Facebook for violating its policy on hate and violence.
The barrister added that Mr Farrakhan’s current image has been ‘misrepresented in a very sensationalised way in the media’.
The claimants, police and council came to an agreement before trial, with the public bodies accepting they had breached the group’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought and religion.
Ranjit Bhose QC, for Lambeth Council, said: ‘Its case was, and remains, that the conditions and restrictions preventing Louis Farrakhan from speaking had nothing to do with the topic.’
James Berry, for the Metropolitan Police, added: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service has no desire to stifle speech on reparations.’
In written arguments, Mr Berry said that the force’s assessment of the risk from potential counter-protesters was not about the speech but ‘extreme views’ expressed by Mr Farrakhan.
Mr Justice Garnham made a declaration stating that Scotland Yard and the council had both ‘unlawfully infringed’ on the claimants’ rights under the Human Rights Act.
He said: ‘The rights protected by articles nine and 10 are of fundamental importance.
The High Court heard Mr Farrakhan was barred from speaking at the 4th Africa International Day of Action
‘The fact that the fundamental rights are potentially subject to restrictions places a heavy burden on those charged with such matters,’ he continued.
The bodies were ordered to pay a combined £92,250 in damages, and the council faces a bill of £175,000 in legal costs.
Hours after the decision was made, the leader of Lambeth Council – Jack Hopkins – stood down from his position, although a formal reason was not given.