AJC welcomed the decision of the Appellate Division of the California Superior Court in Orange County in State v. Sayeed, et al. The court upheld the conviction of 10 individuals who repeatedly interrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California at Irvine in February 2010. They had violated a California statute which bans anyone from willfully disturbing or breaking up a lawful assembly, the court ruled.
“We are pleased that the appellate division concurred with our view that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech may not be invoked to protect those who intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting,” said AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern.
AJC filed an amicus brief in State v. Sayeed, joined by the Jewish Council of Public Affairs and Jewish National Fund.
A “no disturbance” rule does not silence protestors, the brief stated. For example, “[protestors] could have picketed outside of the University’s auditorium;…attended the speech wearing buttons or T-shirts protesting Israel’s policies; they could have…participated in the question-and-answer period; and they could have organized their own meeting.”
“The California statute attempts to resolve the conflicting freedom of speech rights of a heckler and of a speaker and his listeners,” said Honey Kessler Amado, lead author of the AJC brief. Under the guise of freedom of speech, the heckler cannot intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting and effectively destroy the free speech of a speaker and his listeners. As to the convictions, Amado said, “The California Supreme Court has stated that the guarantee of free speech does not ‘guarantee immunity from liability for those who abuse it.'”
“What they could not do is what they are being punished for—preventing Ambassador Oren from speaking,” Amado added. Ambassador Oren’s speech was curtailed to 12 minutes, instead of an hour-long appearance.
The brief was written by Amado, a member of the AJC Los Angeles Region Board; Avital Blanchard, AJC Assistant General Counsel; and AJC General Counsel Stern.