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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why the Irvine 11 are being prosecuted

Shavua tov u'moadim l'simcha, a good week and a continued happy holiday to all of you.

Last Friday, eleven Muslim 'students' were arraigned in a California court and plead not guilty to charges stemming from their disruption of a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren in February 2010. How could someone be criminally charged for exercising their right of free speech by heckling a speaker they didn't like - and in the United States no less? That's exactly the point, writes Yair Rosenberg in the Harvard Crimson. You have the right to speak but so do others who disagree with you. In this particular case, the 'students' were shown to have planned to prevent Oren from speaking at all. That steps over a line.
To understand why this prosecution is justified, and indeed similar future prosecutions of campus disruptors are warranted, one must first understand what this prosecution is not.

It is decidedly not an “absolute affront to the Constitution” that will “inhibit the free exchange of ideas,” as Dan Stormer and Jacqueline Goodman, two of the Irvine defense attorneys, have claimed. It is their clients who sought to inhibit the free exchange of ideas by shouting down Oren’s speech, preventing him and the estimated crowd of 500-700 individuals from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.

In fact, when viewed through the lens of pragmatism rather than partisanship, the prosecution of these disruptors clearly protects our civil discourse. Imagine, for contrast, a campus climate in which it is possible for any sufficiently motivated group to shut down an event to which it is ideologically opposed. Not only would Ambassador Oren and General Petraeus be shouted off the stage, but Nancy Pelosi would be accosted with cries of “baby killer,” while Omar Barghouti, who spoke recently at Harvard to advocate boycott of Israel, could be met with jeers of “terrorist” and “anti-semite.” It is essential for the preservation of considered campus conversation that such suppressive “speech” never be tolerated, no matter the opinion being espoused. Simply put, no partisan should have a vocal veto over the marketplace of ideas.

Beyond the practical necessity of such prosecution, there is also strong legal justification for it. As Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA, a renowned free speech expert explains, “California law rightly makes it a crime to interfere with people’s rights to speak, and listeners’ rights to listen.” Volokh is a long-time equal opportunity advocate for First Amendment rights, having defended flag-burning, anti-Israel bus advertisements and even the permissibility of voluntarily-assumed Sharia arbitration on U.S. soil. To him, the Irvine case is not an example of individuals exercising free speech but rather attempting to stifle it. “Of course, the defendants have their own free speech rights,” he says. “They could have freely exercised them outside the meeting. They could have exercised them during Q&A … They could have exercised them by staging their own event. But First Amendment law has long recognized that there’s no right to speak so loudly that it interferes with other people’s activity.”

Countering a misconception, Volokh adds that “while a jail term is theoretically available” if the defendants are found guilty, “it will be highly unlikely for first offenders.” Rather, “in a case such as this, the defendants … will be fined, put on probation, and possibly sentenced to some community service.” And that, he concludes, “sounds like about the right punishment.”
It might be enough to inhibit these people in the future and maybe others as well. But unfortunately, the facts in this case seem uniquely suited for prosecution - a mistake that the BDS'ers are not likely to make again.

Read the whole thing. And if you speak to groups in public, know your rights. No one has the right to shut you down. At least in theory.

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2 Comments:

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Shy Guy said...

I would think that no one has instant 1st Amendment rights on private property. The owner should be able to dictate who can and cannot speak and what about.

I also do not understand how California can pass a law that does not allow "shouting down" someone in general public property, as this should be a denial of 1st Amendment rights.

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger Sparky the Wonder Dog said...

Well, I don't understand this legal obsession with the pros and cons of suing Arab thugs disrupting meetings. Isn't this why God invented tasers?

 

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