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Should students who conspire to “shut down” an invited speaker with whom they disagree be prosecuted for the misdemeanor of conspiracy to disturb a meeting? That is the question roiling the University of California. The facts are not really in dispute. Israel’s Ambassador to the United States—a moderate academic named Michael Oren—was invited to present a talk at the University of California at Irvine, a hotbed of radical Islamic hate speech against Israel. The Muslim Student Union organized an effort, in the words of one of its leaders, to “shut down” Oren’s speech—that is to prevent Oren from expressing his views and to stop the audience who came to hear him from listening to them. Here is the way the Dean of the law school, who opposes any criminal prosecution, described what happened:.
“The Muslim Student Union orchestrated a concerted effort to disrupt the speech. One student after another stood and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. Each student was taken away only to be replaced by another doing the same thing.”
The dean’s description is something of an understatement —as anyone can see by watching a video of the event, available online. This was more than a “concerted effort to disrupt the speech. It was a concerted effort to stop it completely—to “shut [it] down.”
Ultimately, that effort failed and Oren managed to deliver his speech, after many long and sustained disruptions, but if the Muslim Student Union had gotten its way, Oren would have been shut down completely. The University, which is a state institution, had a constitutional obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of Oren’s audience to hear what he had to say, and the state prosecutor has a legal obligation to deter future conspiracies to censor controversial speakers, by criminally prosecuting those students who conspired to deny other students their First Amendment rights.
While dissenting students have the right to express disapproval of a speaker’s views by episodic booing, heckling or holding signs, they have no right to conspire to shut down a speaker, which is what the Muslim Student Union students did in this case. One would think that this distinction should be clear to all civil libertarians, academics and others who claim to care about freedom of speech on campus.
It is shocking therefore to see who has lined up behind the students who set out to censor Ambassador Oren. Two prominent leaders of the American Civil Liberties have joined with radical Muslims and other extremists in an effort to pressure the local District Attorney to drop misdemeanor charges against 11 student censors.
A letter supporting the censoring students was signed by Chuck Anderson, President of the Orange County ACLU, and Hector Villagra, the incoming Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California, along with several other radical anti-Israel extremists such as the local heads of the Council on American-Islamic relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the National Lawyers Guild, the Islamic Shura Council, and the West Coast Islamic Society (If you don’t believe this, as I originally didn’t, read the entire letter for yourself.
The ACLU leaders have denied they support censorship and claim that the letter they signed is merely a request to the local District Attorney to drop criminal charges against the students who tried to shut Oren down. But the letter goes much further and defends—indeed praises—the censorial actions those students, while condemning the actions of other students who wanted to hear the speaker.
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