The following appears in today’s OC Register:
Today, the jury returned its verdict in the case of the “Irvine 11.” The case involved students who disrupted the speech of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren at UC Irvine in February 2010. The jury properly found the students guilty of the disruption and of conspiracy to commit the disruption and issued an appropriate penalty.
Not surprisingly, leaders of the Muslim community and voices on the left are upset, claiming that a grave injustice has been done to the community and that the First Amendment rights of the 10 defendants have been abrogated
If one views the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w96UR79TBw ) of the speech, it is transparently clear that the university sponsors of the event committed to a dialogue with the large and hostile Muslim Student Union contingent that was in the room. The organizers repeatedly said there would be a question-and-answer session after the presentation and literally pleaded with the students to allow the ambassador’s speech to proceed.
As the court record and numerous documents make clear, the Muslim Student Union membership wanted to disrupt, not engage with, the ambassador. Prior to the lecture, the Muslim Student Union members signaled both their intention to disrupt and their contempt for the notion of civil dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
They asserted that, “Oren and his partners should only be granted a speakers platform in the International Criminal Court and should not be honored on our campus.” At a meeting of the MSU’s general assembly the goal of the protest was unambiguously declared to be “disrupt the whole event” with the aim to “shut [it] down with individual disruption.”
In the words of UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, “They shouted him (Ambassador Oren) down.”
In the year and a half since the event, much silliness has been written about what the First Amendment means. Salam al Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee has argued that the tactics employed by the students, the “heckler’s veto,” is really just an “exercise in free speech ... these students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means ... we cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right.”
This week, the local office of the Council on American Islamic Relations claimed that the students were the victims of an “abuse of prosecutorial discretion” having been singled out because they were Muslim “in a growing anti-Muslim environment.” The CAIR spokesperson intimated that the suffering of Muslims is so grievous that normal, civil dialogue and discourse is out of the question: “the mode of expression these young men chose is essential to their freedom to express themselves,” – participating in a civil Q&A session is, apparently, out of the question; the only way they can appropriately express themselves is by shutting down their opponents.
As Prof. Chemerinsky, with his constitutional law scholar hat on, has rightly asserted, “There is no right to a heckler’s veto.”
UCI is an educational institution and these students (and many of their supporters) clearly need an education in free speech and the compromises it entails. Listening to and allowing the expression of ideas that one can’t abide is part of the bargain; silencing opponents – no matter how aggrieved one may feel – isn’t. To make our system works, it must be crystal clear that those who don’t play by the rules have to bear the consequences; if there are no consequences to squelching the rights of others, society becomes a cacophonous free-for-all and the loudest, most raucous, voices would be the only ones heard.
The conscious decision to disrupt and harass a guest speaker on a university campus, after repeated warnings, demanded a response from the university and the community that such conduct was simply not acceptable.
UC Irvine and the Orange County District Attorney deserve credit for the extra tutorial on the Constitution and the law that they gave to the Irvine 11.