Yesterday, in an open letter to the University of California (UC) community, UC President Mark G. Yudof made it clear that First Amendment rights do not protect substantially disruptive protests of an event held by others.
On February 27, as these videos show, one particularly persistent heckler and what look like dozens of other students intentionally disrupted an event called "Israeli Soldiers’ Stories" at the University of California, Davis. The heckler said he wouldn’t leave until he was arrested and that his intention was to shut down the event. The others all rose to leave at once, evidently during the event, greatly disrupting it, which suggests that they too planned their disruption.
In the open letter Yudof writes, in relevant part:
It was wrong for hecklers to disrupt speakers on the UC Davis campus …. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech. It is an action meant to deny others their right to free speech.
[W]e cannot as a society allow what we regard as vile speech to lead us to abandon the cherished value of free speech. … Again, the best remedy for bad speech is to surround it with good speech.
Finally, it is important that we keep our eyes on the prize. What we collectively are trying to preserve is a vibrant and vocal university community that is not afraid to explore or even argue about ideas, that is not afraid to make stands on controversial issues, that is not afraid of discourse, but one that embraces the ethic of doing so in a spirit of respect and civility.
In a separate incident, an Israeli flag was vandalized this week (with the single word "terrorists") at the University of California, Riverside. Yudof’s letter rightly notes that vandalism is not protected speech either, and Yudof adds that UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White "was right to assign campus police to investigate."
The UC Davis disruption recalls one at the University of California, Irvine two years ago, when several students intentionally and substantially disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. (The “Irvine 11” supporters tell their side of the story here.)