On Feb. 8, 2010, Muslim students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside protested a speech at UCI given by Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Throughout the speech, the students stood up, spoke a short line, and left the venue into the waiting arms of police. The students were later tried and convicted of willfully disrupting a meeting, as well as censoring Oren. They were sentenced to 56 hours of community service and put on probation.
This conviction is detrimental, as it questions free speech rights.
Allowing the conviction to stand would put the rights of future protestors at a disadvantage, as courts might be able to expand the use of this law against them in the future. Would peaceful protests count as “willful disruption”? Would protestors be able to fight for what they believed in if they feared the constant threat of incarceration? What exactly would be considered allowed and not allowed when it came to exercising free speech rights?
The law needs to be more defined if it is to be used in the future against protestors. What defines “willful disruption” needs to be made concrete. If this conviction stands, the courts and judges alike might be able to use this vague law in order to convict others on acts that were previously considered forms of free speech and peaceful protest. Before students are convicted in situations such as this, the law needs to be more specific in order to avoid infringing on free speech rights as a whole.
This past Wednesday, the Irvine 11 decided to appeal their conviction, which is something I fully support. Appealing the decision will give the courts and public time to differentiate between free speech infringement and true, aggravating disruption.
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