In conservative Orange County, California, more than 50 protesters — some with tape over their mouths — protested in front of the district attorney's office Tuesday, trying to stop the subpoenas and grand jury investigation against 11 students who disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador last year.
The Irvine 11 had disrupted a talk by Micheal Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., by shouting over him, forcing him to stop in the middle of his speech. Eventually they were arrested and removed by the police.
The dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, said that what the students did was “not freedom of expression. . . I favor them being punished by the university because what they did was wrong.” However, it was freedom of expression; he just didn’t happen to like their message or style. What the students did was heckle the ambassador, a form of protest with a long tradition in this country, engaged in by many, including politicians of both parties. To his credit, though, the dean did contest the use of a grand jury, stating that the university’s discipline was sufficient.
As a result of the incident, the Muslim Student Union was suspended by the university for one year, one of the only times that the school has banned a student group for anything other than hazing or alcohol abuse. This excessive disciplinary action by the university, and especially the use of the grand jury by the county, is already having a chilling effect on student free speech. Many have expressed shock at the excessiveness of the response and are questing whether it is safe to particpate in protests in the future .