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Prior to the trial, the defendants’ attorneys argued that charges should never have been filed, noting that the issue had been handled on campus. UC Irvine did cite, release and discipline the individuals involved, they revoked the Muslim Student Union’s charter for a quarter, and they placed the student organization on two years of probation. Other community members claimed the trial was a waste of taxpayer money and that the defendants were singled out because they are Muslim.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who conducted a news conference after the trial, wasn’t buying any of it. ‘Today, an Orange County jury sent what I believe to be a strong message that First Amendment rights belong to everybody, and we will not tolerate a small group wanting to shut down speeches on a campus or anyplace.” He dismissed the bigotry angle as well. ‘It’s not Islamophobic; it’s not against or for any particular group,” Rackauckas said. “This is strictly about the rule of law and not allowing one group to shut down another. And, if it was the opposite and it was an Israeli group shutting down a Muslim group, we’d do exactly the same thing.”
He further noted that the First Amendment is not absolute, and that it does not include the right to cancel out someone else’s exercise of free speech. “If heckler’s veto was allowed, then no one would have the right to free speech. Freedom does not mean that no one can tell me what I can do. That’s not freedom; that’s anarchy,” he said.
Rackauckas also took issue with defense lawyer Jacqueline Goodman’s characterization of the students as “heroes” who acted in the “tradition of the finest American political activists.” “They’re not being civil rights heroes, they’re actually being an opposite of that,” he countered. “They’re trying to stop somebody from exercising their civil rights.”
Undaunted by the verdict, defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman vowed to appeal. “We’re going to stand up and fight this,” she said, “even if it means going to the Supreme Court.”
Shalom Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County, and one of the sponsors of Oren’s UCI talk, released a statement praising the verdict. “The verdict reaffirms that the Muslim Student Union’s planned and systematic use of disruptions to trample on the free speech of others crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance. While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech,’” it read.
The legal essence of this case turned on the point at which one exercise of free speech constitutes censorship or suppression of another exercise of free speech. But other implications are clear. Politicized Islam, particularly on campuses, is an aggressive movement, and the Muslim students involved in this case have adopted the totalitarian tactic of “shouting down” a speaker with whom they disagree — or worse, engaging in a level of disruption or intimidation that prevents a speaker from speaking at all. Sadly, they have convinced a number of young Americans that such tactics, which they use to promoting racist, anti-Semitic demagoguery, are legitimate forms of free expression.
Roqayah Chamseddine, whose Web site identifies her as a Lebanese-American based in the United States, expressed the essence of that demagoguery. “I hope they don’t think the guilty verdict will cause us to stop mobilizing, disrupting, smashing apartheid; we’re going to get louder.” Mobilizing? Mobilize away. Disrupting and smashing? Orange County prosecutors have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that decent Americans no longer have to tolerate anarchy masquerading as free speech.
Hopefully other prosecutors will follow their lead.
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