When 1st Amendment Rights Collide
Like any good Constitutionalist, I have been following the trial of the “Irvine 11“. The trial, which began last week pits competing 1st Amendment rights against each other.
Last year in February, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was invited by several campus groups, including “Anteaters for Israel”, to speak on the UC Irvine campus. The speech was political and sure to be controversial, as it encompassed the Israeli state and the issue of Palestinian statehood. It was expected that there would be a protest of some sort by pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli groups.
The group centered in the spotlight consisted of members of the Muslim Students Union. Eleven members of the group, including three students from UC Riverside, participated in the protest which consisted of slogans shouted out by each protester, one after the other with the intention of expressing their views of Oren’s speech. The protesters were, of course, escorted out of the audience by campus police, who were waiting en masse in the aisles. They were patted down and arrested. University officials subsequently sanctioned the Muslim Student Union and the specific individuals involved. That’s as far as it should have gone, but it didn’t.
For whatever reasons, the Orange County District Attorney’s office chose to prosecute the protesters for disrupting the Israeli ambassador’s speech. The specific charges were, conspiracy to disrupt a meeting and disrupting a meeting, both misdemeanors that could result in fines and probation. It did not take long for the case to gain international recognition and support, with several youtube videos going viral and even Jewish news services apparently supporting the students’ rights.
Because, universally, the world recognizes the Muslim Students right to free speech.
Our forefathers were wise men. I believe that the Constitution, as written, is as valid today as it was over 200 years ago when George Washington said, “I don’t expect this Constitution to last more than 20 years.” George wasn’t infallible, just a great Father of our Country. If he were alive today, he would be proud that our Constitution has not only lasted this long but has been the framework for numerous other constitutions of countries around the world. He would also be proud that our Constitution has lasted largely untouched for so long. We have the oldest unchanged government in existence. In fact, constitutions change so frequently that over 100 have been written since 1970. Even our old “friend”, France, has had 10 governments in the same timeframe. El Salvador has had 36 written constitutions since 1824.
The protection for our Constitution has been attributed to the first Ten Amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights. The 1st Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Pretty plain speaking, as the framers of the Constitution were. The 1st Amendment is a fundamental right of the people and cannot be abridged.
But, what about when two parties claim 1st Amendment Rights to free speech as the parties in this case have? Where is the line drawn? If we look at history, then we can find the answer. When I was (much) younger, Angela Davis was the communist du jour, speaking often at the Berkley campus of UC. Her speeches were radical, insightful, and downright unamerican. I was a patriot and had just joined the military service during Vietnam. To me, her speeches at the time bordered on traitorous activity. She had been arrested several times for her open advocation of communism and Ronald Reagan attempted to have her barred from teaching at any US university. I look back and see that I had a narrow view of an intelligent and thoughtful person. At the time, she was respected by many intellectuals around the world. 40 years later, she has my respect. And, so do the Irvine 11.
I may not agree with their message. However, I will defend with my life their right to convey their message in a peaceful manner. That is because free speech is fundamental to a free society. While we may be reminded of the old adage that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, that was not the case here. These students, in the best tradition of university protest, made a unique display of demonstration and stood for what they believe in. It does not matter if you or I believe their message. Whatever the message, they had a right to be heard. And, the Orange County District Attorney and the University of California Irvine chose to squelch those rights. We, as a free society, cannot allow that to happen.
What about Michael Oren’s right to speak? Let’s not forget that he was able to complete his speech and, although the prosecution says he did not get to finish the question and answer session afterward, the defense says his real reason for leaving so early was because he wanted to attend the Lakers game. In fact, the defense was barred from showing the jury a photo of Oren with Kobe Bryant. Go figure. The case is in the jury’s hands at this writing.
If you have a view, disparate or concurrent, please comment.
Is Jerry Amante Really Il Duce?
Our friend, Dan Chmielewski over at the Liberal OC, has been the subject of hot debate on another blog, The New Santa Ana.
Most readers are probably aware by now that Santa Ana Councilmember, Claudia Alvarez, has been the subject of many articles and news programs concerning her recent anti-Semitic remarks directed at a couple of Santa Ana business owners. In the aftermath, she has apologized to the people of Santa Ana, the Jewish community and the ADL. Of course, the people she hasn’t apologized to are the ones she should have started with, the Chases who were the target of her remarks in a public meeting. The Liberal OC has written a couple of articles concerning the matter and has been vocal about Alvarez and the Santa Ana Council’s failure to act against her on behalf of the citizens of Santa Ana.
Well, that stirred up a hornet’s nest because, as you may also know, Dan frequently writes about Tustin and the antics of our esteemed mayor, Jerry Amante. He often calls Jerry, who is of Italian (Sicilian, really) descent, “Il Duce”. This has rankled the writers of the New Santa Ana blog who have written a hit piece on Dan for his use of the nickname because it has been attributed in the past to the infamous Benito Mussolini. Their assertion is that Mussolini was a mass murderer and they infer that he was part of the “ethnic cleansing” that took place in that part of the world against the Jews. Well, sort of.
It is true that Mussolini liked to be called “Il Duce”. So, his friends called him that. It has never been shown that it was widely used by the people except maybe in fear of the dictator and his henchmen. It is also true that he was a mass murderer and committed war crimes.
What isn’t true is that he was part of the ethnic cleansing. In fact:
Things began to change in 1938 for Italian Jews. Mussolini, in his craven desire to please the Fuhrer, initiated a comprehensive anti-Semitic campaign at the urging of the Nazis, including miscegenation laws and a media campaign against Jews. Jews were forbidden to teach in schools. Foreign Jews living as refugees in Italy were rounded up and confined in internment camps. However, these camps were a lot more like the Japanese-American internment camps than the Nazi death camps.
Thousands of Jews seeking refuge went to Italy and Italian-occupied territories because they knew that they were likely to be protected rather than persecuted. In general the Italian people did not buy into the government’s anti-Jewish policies, though Italian intellectuals were curiously silent.
To be clear, The Liberal OC wrote and commented on the issue of Alvarez and her anti-Semitic remarks, not on the general state of the Axis during World War II. The name Mussolini, while infamous, does not carry the same historical stigma that the name of Hitler does. When people think of Hitler, they think of the Holocaust. When they think of Mussolini, they think of the dictator of Italy, an Axis member, and the lackey of Hitler. So, the analogy is a bit of a stretch to say the least. Let’s add to this that Dan’s wife is of Italian descent. He asserts that his use of the word is simply as, “the leader”. In fact, Il Duce means “the leader” or “duke”. I seen no reason to take it otherwise. There is also the matter of the legal issues between Dan and Art Pedroza, the owner of the New Santa Ana blog that is probably the real fuel for this unwarranted attack.
Face it. Nowadays, bloggers are not always nice people. We have our opinions and we let them be known, often in not so nice terms. This blog usually refers to Amante as Boss Tweed and refers to his running of the city as Tammany Hall Tustin. It isn’t meant to denigrate the Irish-Americans that made up that era. It is meant to signify the severity and methods Amante uses in imposing his will on the citizens of this city and the employees of city hall. These digs are meant to entice and keep the reader engaged. And, as was said elsewhere in the blogosphere, Alvarez is a public, elected figure who elected to say what she did in a public forum while representing the community. Dan is a businessman and journalist, representing his own views.
So, if you hear any of the right wing noise from the West whining about this, you know it is just hot, blowing wind. Turn on your air conditioner.
A $50,000 Party for Cement
It’s too bad we are not in the 4th District for the Orange County Board of Supervisors. It is beginning to look like Shawn Nelson is the only one of the Gang of Five that has any sense at all. Not that I agree with him on everything, but he did get it right on one agenda item on Tuesday.
It seems the Board of Supervisors wants to throw a party to celeberate the opening of a parking lot. OK, it is a big parking lot. In fact, it services a large number of commuters and is a shining example of progress. I am talking, of course, about the newly completed parking structure at the John Wayne Airport. Anyone who has traveled from John Wayne in the past few years knows this parking lot (along with terminal space) was badly needed. But, spending $50,000 for the grand opening? Ridiculous.
Back to Shawn Nelson, he immediately questioned this saying it’s “a ridiculous illusion that people would be fired up about the terminal.” He said it made no sense to reward contractors for doing what they were supposed to do. He also questioned the airport’s use of half their marketing budget for one event. In his weekly email newsletter, Shawn was the only member of the Gang of Five to discuss the event. “…flight prices and availability are stronger measures to increase ridership than a grand opening event. In addition, any event expenses should be the responsibility of the vendors who stand to benefit by showcasing their products and services.” That sounds right to any good conservative.
Not surprisingly, John Moorlach defended the celebration saying that it was important to commemorate an “architectural creation”. Huh? John, it’s a parking lot, not a Frank Lloyd Wright building. It’s not unique. In fact, it looks a lot like the parking lot on the other side of the terminal buildings which looks a lot like parking structures throughout the county. Clearly, it does not take much “creativity” to get John into a partying mood. But then, he is an accountant. Oh, did we mention that the airport is in his district? “You have to have a little pomp and circumstance.” Yeah, now we get to the truth. John probably dreams of a big brass band behind him on the podium as he pontificates about the virtues of using non-union, outsourced labor to build the gleaming monolith and how this parking lot will symbolize the freedom Orange County’s citizens will feel each and every time they drive into it at $2 an hour. Usually the only thing I’m thinking about by that time is whether I’ll get the gentle hands treatment by the TSA folks.
Airport officials weakly pointed out that it was not just about parking. It was about food, too. Presumably, they meant that reporters and the media (I am thinking CNN here) would be touring the new food court we’ve all heard about in recent months. Gosh, that sounds exciting and a real good reason to spend $50,000 of taxpayer money… not. I don’t know about you but, when I am looking for a place to eat, the last place I would think of is the airport terminal with it’s 8 overpriced fastfood joints and 3 overpriced honky tonks peddling authentic Wolfgang Puck fare. I can get Starbucks in 180 other locations around Orange County (6 right here in Tustin alone). So, again, not for food and certainly not when the County is looking at a $48 million dollar shortfall this year due to the shenanigans played in Sacramento during budget season.
In the end, it was suggested that $25,000 be spent in airport (again, read taxpayer) funds, hoping that matching funds from “parking lot gala event sponsors” be found for the other half. Shawn and the Littlest Princess, Janet Nguyen (surprise again) chiming in with “nayes” were outvoted by the majority which, not surprisingly, included Campbell and Bates who, along with Moorlach, seem to have no problem partying on the taxpayer dime.
Oh, and don’t expect to be invited to this gala event unless you are one of Orange County’s beautiful people… or, at least a Republican in good standing.
If you haven’t read enough about this yet, here is an excellent story from our friends at The Voice of Orange County.