The too-long-tolerated crime of leftist university students depriving invited speakers of their freedom of speech by drowning them out with shouts and threats of violence is finally getting its day in court. And, true to form, that great defender of freedom of speech, the American Civil Liberties Union, is defending the very students who showed no appreciation whatsoever of others’ freedom to express views contrary to their own.
Don’t think for a minute that Jim Gilchrist of The Minutemen is finally getting long-delayed justice for being shouted down and physically assaulted by Columbia University student radicals in 2006. No, it doesn’t look like prosecutors in New York are ready yet to bring charges against liberals who silence conservatives. But in California’s Orange County, things are different, and DA Tony Rackauckas has refused to drop charges against eleven Muslim student radicals who are charged with conspiracy and disrupting a public event when they forced Israel’s soft-spoken ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, from the stage on Feb. 8 of last year. The students all have been charged with two misdemeanors, and face only minor penalties — probably a few months of probation and a few days of community service or, at worst, six months in jail.
As explained by the DA, this is a straightforward matter: “This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at the University of California, Irvine. These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting.” If he didn’t prosecute them, he said, he would be failing to keep his oath to uphold the Constitution. Clear enough. One can only hope district attorneys in other university towns will do the same when radicals on their campuses behave similarly.
In what is perhaps the least surprising reaction imaginable, the eleven students are now shouting about freedom of speech — their freedom of speech. They showed up at a meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to ask them to intervene — the Supervisors patiently replied that the DA is independent, but the students and their supporters didn’t want to listen — they brought in the ACLU, got liberal church leaders to defend them as persecuted minorities, and they protested outside the DA’s office. Well, they didn’t exactly shout outside the DA’s office, because they had big strips of tape stuck over their mouths, symbolic of their newfound deep concern about free speech. That’s cute, but where was that concern last year, as these same people shouted, jeered, clapped, sang and thrust their fists into the air as they drowned out Oren’s comments with angry pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic sloganeering?
Some of the blame for their action against Oren can be placed on UCI’s faculty and administration, who had responded with typical academic paralysis over a period of years as the UCI Muslim Student Union become ever more openly hostile toward Jewish students. They were as ineffective as Berkeley’s leadership had been in coping with “the Naked Guy,” Andrew Martinez, who gained fleeting fame in 1992 for strolling around campus and attending class wearing nothing but a backpack and sandals. Being naked, he said, reflected his values, “not how middle-class values tell me to act.” That sentiment froze faculty and administrators in an ice storm of liberal intellectual conflict. Some liked the Naked Guy’s point and defended his right to espouse it; others said a policy against nudity was needed to defend women’s sensibilities, and still others countered that women’s sensibilities were the same as men’s, so the point was moot. Round and round they went for months, until someone finally came up with an argument based on hygiene — students were, after all, refusing to sit in seats he had sat in — and a consensus was achieved that brought Martinez’s naked days to an end.
Early on in the Martinez case, Alameda County’s liberal prosecutor refused to bring charges, just as New York’s DA refused to prosecute the Columbia students who assaulted Gilchrist. Had charges been brought, Martinez’s nude activism very likely would have come to a quick end and he might not have ended up dead of suicide in a Santa Clara County jail cell 14 years later. Rackauckas, the Orange County DA, has refused to let the eleven loud-mouthed Muslim activists slide, and by doing so, he just might teach them valuable lessons in freedom and personal responsibility — but not if the ACLU and the liberal church leaders have their way.
The ACLU doesn’t want radicals to be discouraged from “engaging in any controversial speech or protest” out of fear of actually being held accountable for trampling on the rights of others, so it is planning a spirited defense. Such a defense would be used by these students and radicals everywhere to justify the suppression of free speech as the good and necessary work of radicals. The church leaders, like Rev. Sarah Halverson of the Fairview Community Church in Irvine, are even worse. She said the DA’s action is “symptomatic of something in our society and how we feel about Islam.” Besides missing the point that the case is about the law, not about Islam, she and other liberal church leaders support the troubling proposition that the suppression of Jewish speech is justified in the name of freedom of Islamist speech. They seem to have forgotten that Christ stood silent when others brought charges against Him.
It remains to be seen if the students ultimately will have their day in court, and whether an Orange County jury will find them guilty of the crimes they are charged with. But one thing is sure: By trying so hard to dodge charges as minor as those they’re facing, the UCI Eleven are showing themselves for what they are — cowardly little snivelers who in no way can be compared to true social radicals like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, who, besides being much more respectful of others, were ready to pay a price for what they believed in.
Laer Pearce, a veteran of three decades of California public affairs, is currently working on a book that shows how everything wrong with America comes from California.