It was imperative, therefore, that a public prosecutor apply the law to these students, because to do otherwise would be to tolerate, if not encourage, conduct that would undercut the constitutional rights of an invited speaker. This is especially true because the University of California is a state-run institution to which the First Amendment applies in full force. A prosecutor has the obligation to protect the First Amendment, especially if the university has imposed discipline that is inadequate to assure that censorial conduct will be deterred. Moreover, these students must be made to understand that their conduct is not only morally indefensible; it is criminal. It is entirely just that these students should have a criminal record and that the world should know that they tried to prevent the exercise of First Amendment rights because they disagreed with the content of an invited speaker’s remarks. They should be made to pay a heavy price for their criminal conduct.
The same would be true if Jewish students were to try to prevent an anti-Israel speaker from presenting the case against Israel. No student, no matter how strongly they feel that their view is the only correct one, has the right to prevent the open marketplace of ideas from operating on a university campus, as these ten students tried to do.
The successful prosecution of the Irvine Ten will not “chill” free speech rights of hecklers. No one should or would be prosecuted for simply booing the content of a speech, leafleting a speaker, holding up signs in the back of the auditorium, conducting a counter event or demonstration. It was these young criminals who were trying to chill, indeed freeze, the constitutional rights of the speaker and those who came to hear him. They should not be treated as heroes by anyone who loves freedom and supports the First Amendment.
It was a good day for the First Amendment when the prosecutor decided to apply the law to their censorial conduct. It was another good day for the First Amendment when the jury appropriately convicted them. And I hope it will be yet another good day for the First Amendment when the appellate courts affirm this constitutionally just conviction.
This article appeared in the Orange County Register.
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