Last year 11 students were detained by authorities after disrupting a speech by the Ambassador from Israel, Ambassador Oren, at the University of California, Irvine. These students, since referred to as the Irvine 11, have now been formally charged with the crime of disturbing the peace. The eleven students, some of whom attended the University of California at Irvine and others the University of California at Riverside, disrupted the Ambassador’s speech shouting anti-Israel messages or pro-Palestine messages. The Orange County District Attorney’s office deliberated over whether to charge them because of the free speech issues and probably also because a judicial prosecution will set a showdown for free speech issues. While Free Speech is a cornerstone of American Democracy it does not permit another individual to “shout down” another. Also, through precedent the United States Supreme Court has laid out certain time and place restrictions that limit free speech, mainly for practical reasons. For example, holding a noisy demonstration in the middle of the night in a sleepy town might cause a court to legally restrict such a demonstration despite the Free Speech argument.
So while the Orange County District Attorney’s decision to charge the Irvine 11 is controversial it appears to be supported by the law in this area and not an infringement of the 1st Amendment right to Free Speech. See, Penal Code Sections 415, 415.5, 416.