The Orange County Register today reported on another twist in the “Irvine 11” fight. A coalition of civil rights groups and professional bar associations have come out against the UC Irvine’s decision to suspend the Muslim Student Union from operating on campus.

The campus group was suspended after an investigation by the school revealed the group made a coordinated effort to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren from giving a speech on campus. Eleven Muslim students, the majority of them members of the campus group, were arrested at the event after successive outbursts during Oren’s speech.

From Monday’s article:

Fifteen groups throughout the country — including the Asian Law Caucus, Afghan-American Bar Association, Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, South Asian Bar Association Northern California and National Lawyers Guild — are urging UCI officials to abandon all efforts to suspend the Muslim student organization.

“Taking the unprecedented step to ban this group will memorialize UCI as a campus that violates its students’ constitutional rights, and will have negative repercussions that will reverberate around the country,” according to a letter signed by the groups and sent to the chancellor’s office late last week.

“Such a decision would amount to selective punishment of a group whose ideas are disfavored by the U.C. administration, and sets an extremely dangerous precedent that threatens all Americans who exercise their Constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Months before the ban and the fate of the so-called Irvine 11 was decided, UCI officials were trapped with a difficult free speech paradox — did the students go too far and unlawfully infringe on Oren’s free speech when they disrupted him? Or did the school violate the students’ free speech when they were punished for the disruption?

Voice of OC’s open government consultant Terry Francke weighed in on the issue and determined that the students did go too far, and their actions warranted the campus group’s suspension.

Aside from the free speech question, the controversy bore many of the same sensitive complexities as the overall Arab-Israeli conflict, and all parties that were involved (or got themselves involved) found themselves trapped in a minefield of accusations typical of the conflict.

For example, one Jewish group, the Zionist Organization of America, called for a boycott of UCI, criticized UCI Chancellor Michael Drake, in particular, and said the campus fostered anti-Semitism.

And (as I chronicled in this story when the Orange County Human Relations Commission wrote a letter in defense of Drake) Muslim groups condemned the commission for its intervention.

However, the groups later retracted their condemnation after the commission wrote a clarification letter.


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