In February 2010, 11 University of California, Irvine students from the Muslim Student Union disrupted a speech given by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, to students and members of the community at UC Irvine.
The 11 students were arrested on the spot, and the Muslim Student Union, which was proven to have carefully crafted the fiasco, was later placed on a quarter-long suspension and two-year probation by university administration.
The students now face misdemeanor charges in court.
Some have claimed the punishment is unfounded, characterizing the event as nothing more than an expression of free speech and dissent, however inappropriate it might have been.
To punish the dissenters would therefore be setting a dangerous precedent, potentially limiting the expression of free speech on campuses in the future.
Though this sounds like a good story line, nothing could be further from the truth.
The disruptors engaged in an orchestrated attempt to silence a person with whom they happened to disagree.
They were neither expressing their opinions nor protesting, but attempting to shut down speech entirely.
One by one, each of the 11 students in the audience individually rose to shout at the ambassador as he attempted to speak, and one by one each was escorted out, only to be followed by other interruptions minutes later.
In the words of Erwin Chemerinksy, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, “The Muslim Student Union orchestrated a concerted effort to disrupt the speech. One student after another stood and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. Each student was taken away only to be replaced by another doing the same thing.”
What occurred that night was a calculated act of censorship, and the only free speech violated was that of Oren and the members of his audience.
Defenders of the Irvine 11 refer to the First Amendment and then proceed to defend and vindicate the 11 students in a twisted and perverse mockery of the principle of free speech.
There is a clear distinction between the occasional heckling protester and an organized, coordinated effort to prevent someone from speaking — in this instance, it was the latter.
The behavior displayed by the 11 students represents the antithesis of a university as a place where the free exchange of ideas can occur, and it is fortunate UC Irvine and the district attorney have chosen to handle the matter with such resolve.
To have done anything less would have sent the dangerous message that it is acceptable to silence the voices of those with whom you disagree.
A university should refuse to tolerate this kind of behavior.
What level of punishment the students deserve is a matter of the court, but what is absolutely clear to any observer is the repulsive nature of the act.
It is especially unfortunate because those 11 students might have learned a thing or two from the Princeton-educated historian and foreign policy expert had they bothered to hear him out.
The YouTube video tells the full story of students who were combative, instead of the popular story line that says they were peaceful protestors.
Those 11 students embarrassed themselves and put their entire university to shame. They did not exercise their right to free speech, but wrongly manipulated the First Amendment to defend themselves.
Justin Davidoff is a junior majoring in business administration.