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Constitutional or Discourteous?
Last week Michael Oren gave a speech at University of California, Irvine in Orange County, California, describing the issues he faced as Israeli ambassador. His speech was interrupted multiple times from members of the audience that did not agree with him. A video posted online showed the interruptions occurring roughly every ten minutes. Professor Petracca of the Political Science department expresses his impatience with the outbursts and called out “Shame on you!” when he took the podium to control the ruckus caused by the interruptions. He told the audience that this behavior is not appropriate for University of California students. The spirit of the event as explained by Professor Petracca and Chancellor Drake was to provide a forum for an exchange of ideas and discussion on the Middle East situation. They said that a better way for the UCI Muslim Student Union (the group expressing their dissatisfaction with the speaker) to express their disagreement would be by presenting the ambassador with questions at the end of his talk. University officials were likely embarrassed by the students’ conduct. The MSU has put on its share of displays on campus denouncing Israeli occupation and their tactics and the tolls it takes on the Palestinian community. Indubitably the University would have preferred picketing outside the speaking venue. Yet it’s important to remember that a marginalized group may feel that working within the accepted modes of expression is not effective. The outbursts managed to successfully interrupt Oren from talking, but did not communicate any counter point. Some people present complained that UCI should have taken better measures to control the crowd and that the outbursts made UCI look bad. Notably, as soon as a person yelled out they were escorted out of the auditorium. The position that UCI takes on the incident is that expression is permitted within certain limits dictated by place and time. It is unclear if the students will be charged criminally. If they are they can be charged with disturbing the peace under Penal Code section 415 (2); this penal code section prohibits using “loud and unreasonable” noise. Despite the strong protection of Free Speech in the U.S. Constitution it does appear that the manner in which the students sought to protest the ambassador fell outside the protection of the constitution.