Freedom of Speech?

By Brennan McCord

Mar 2, 2010 3:49pm

ABC News' Sharaf Mowjood reports: At the University of California Irvine (UCI), eleven pro-Palestinian students disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, believing that they were protected by the first amendment. After the fourth interruption, Oren took 20 minute break, asked for hospitality only to be interrupted again. The students said they were protesting the occupation of Palestine, and heckled Oren about alleged human rights violations and war crimes by Israel. “You sir are an accomplice to Genocide,” shouted one protestor to Oren, “It’s a shame that this university has brought someone like yourself,” said another.  All eleven students peacefully left the room and were cited for disrupting a public and lawful meeting. The citation was sent to the district attorney's office with the possibility of criminal charges being placed against them and expulsion from school.  
Heckling during a speech is not a new tactic in expressing a point. The town-halls, debates, and forums held across the country to discuss health care changes had a plethora of hecklers, and disruptions that became news. University students are well known to protest, heckle and interrupt speeches, so why are these eleven being charged for what they say is their freedom of speech?  

Dean of the UCI law school, Erwin Chemerinsky told ABC News that, “UCI told the students, in advance and during the program, if they were disruptive, they faced arrest and discipline.” He continued to say that, “freedom of speech does not include a right to a heckler's veto and to disrupt the speech of another.”

Yet the students, and community advocates feel that the students are being targeted because of their freedom of speech.

“The University is trying to make an example out of the students,” says Reem Salahi, a civil rights attorney representing the students. She also says that from her knowledge, no level of a peaceful student protest has been threatened with expulsion by a University and that issue of freedom of speech is not as black and white as stated by Chemrinsky.
Community groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American Islamic Relations both released statements about what they say is selective enforcement, and disproportionate punishment directed to the eleven students. However Kathy Lawhorn, media relations director for UCI says that, “Campus police and administration enforce policies fairly without bias, and in a similar situation, similar action will be taken.” 

Oren recently told Fox and Friends that political campuses always have political tension and that it’s a part of society where ideas are exchanged and tensions can rise. He also said that, “Campuses are also the stronghold of constitutional principles of freedom of speech and university administrations have to do the utmost to make sure that principle is upheld.”

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