Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Free Speech: One to Watch

In a case of student/protesters (not all of them were students) disrupting a speech given by the Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, at the University of California at Irvine in February (see edited video of the event here), the following defenses of their actions were voiced immediately following the incident:
That statement followed one by Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which said: "These students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means. We cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right."
If you watch the video, you will see that students were not threatened from practicing their First Amendment rights.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defended his group's defense of the interruptions at Irvine. He said that it was unfair to say that the students who interrupted were trying to shut down the talk because they voluntarily left the room after each interruption, and let the talk start again (until the next outburst at least) and eventually let it finish. "Let's put it in perspective. The speaker had an hour to speak, and they each had less than a minute."
Mr. Ayloush implies that “free speech” means we are not only free to coarsely and continuously interrupt speakers whose speech we do not agree with, but also, that the invited speaker must share the time of his audience and his stage with any uninvited speakers.  That line of reasoning lacks only two things: freedom and speech.

From today’s Inside Higher Ed:

Based on e-mail records and student testimony, the investigation found that the Muslim group organized a meeting to plan the interruptions, voted on the plan, distributed statements for protesters to read when shouting at the ambassador, and had plans in place for a variety of contingencies. The disruptions were "planned, orchestrated, and coordinated in advance" by the Muslim Student Union, the investigation found. Part of the plan, the university found, was for the members of the Muslim student union to tell anyone who asked that the event had not been coordinated by the group.
Here is the report of that investigation (redacted for the privacy of those accused).

After its investigation revealed organized obstruction and “dishonesty” on the part of the Muslim Student Union, the university decided to suspend the MSU for one year.  The MSU promptly appealed that decision.
The discussions, which are certain to ensue regarding what behaviors fall under free speech on college campuses, may help to define an issue which should be dear to every person who appreciates that fundamental freedom known as the First Amendment.  
It is an issue worth watching.

Update: I changed the "fountainhead of freedom" in my second to last line to the "fundamental freedom" because the nature of man is such that he must be free to act in order to pursue his values - this, not the government, is the source of his rights; the sole purpose of government is to protect those rights.

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