Let's see if I've got this right: 50 or so activists marched outside the O.C. district attorney's office last week to protest a reported grand jury investigation of the "Irvine 11" over their having interrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010.
Oren was invited by the university to speak. He was the guest. He was shouted down repeatedly by protesters, and supporters cheered as students were escorted away by the police.
The Muslim Student Union, which denied having planned to disrupt Oren's speech, was subsequently blamed for this activity and suspended by the university for part of an academic year. A UC administrator has stated that he believes this punishment is sufficient and that the D.A. shouldn't press charges.
In the meantime, these protesters are marching with duct tape over their mouths to dramatize their plight. They're being prevented from speaking, they say. Isn't that because they prevented Ambassador Oren from speaking?
Tom Reinhart-Marean, who marched with the protesters, was quoted as saying, "Indicting these students would have a severe chilling effect on the exercise of free speech on campus and elsewhere."
I wonder if Mr. Reinhart-Marean believes that shouting down an invited dignitary has a chilling effect on the exercise of free speech? Wouldn't it be better to permit speakers to speak and then protest afterward if you disagree with their position on an issue?
It seems to me it would, at the very least, be more civil and serve to promote the free exchange of ideas.
Oh, unless you have no interest in promoting the free exchange of ideas. I think that's where UCI's Muslim Student Union finds itself.
While I believe that prosecuting the students who repeatedly disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech at UC Irvine is too severe a punishment, these students should not be glorified as standing up for free speech. The students' concerted effort to drown out the words of a scheduled speaker, if considered protected by the First Amendment, would transform this country into a place where speech cannot flourish.
The Irvine 11 wished to silence someone with whom they vehemently disagreed, but there is no place in our system of free speech to allow those with the most disruptive voices from drowning others out. The students should have scheduled their own event if they truly believed in free debate, and I doubt they would have tolerated dissenting voices overtaking their event.
Reagan statue redux
Instead of the (shrine) statue to Reagan, spend the money on tuition for a deserving, underfunded student seeking an education at the University of California or, perhaps, USC. Perhaps the monies derived from the Reagan film could also be devoted to the scholarship fund, and presented by Councilman Keith Curry in a ceremony at the Reagan library.
Richard W. Detwiler