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, CA 92697 E-mail: email@example.com Fax: (949) 824-2087 Manuel N. Gómez Vice-Chancellor, University of California, Irvine 405 Aldrich Hall Irvine, CA 92697 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: (949) 824-2763 Re: Proposed Suspension of U.C. Irvine Muslim Student Union Dear Chancellor Drake and Vice-Chancellor Gómez: We, the undersigned civil rights organizations and professional bar associations from across the United States, write to express our strong condemnation of the recommended suspension of the U.C. Irvine Muslim Student Union (MSU) for allegedly coordinating the actions of the 101 nonviolent student protesters who interrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s February 8, 2010 public speech with brief objections, before leaving voluntarily and peacefully. The MSU rejects UCI’s factual determinations of its involvement with the protest, and is currently appealing the proposed ban; nonetheless, for the following reasons, we urge UCI abandon all efforts to suspend the MSU. The Proposed Ban Would Deprive Hundreds of Muslim Students of Their Fundamental First Amendment Right to Association The proposed suspension of the MSU would deprive hundreds of current and future Muslim students of their fundamental First Amendment right to association. UCI’s MSU has been in existence for over 20 years, and has over 100 active members and approximately 250 registered students. It organizes hundreds of events each year, most of which aim to nurture its members’ spirituality through religious services, interfaith discussions, and charity work. Singling out the only organization on campus dedicated to the issues and concerns of Muslim students not only devalues the Muslim community as a whole, but also evinces political and religious discrimination on the part of UCI administrators.
An eleventh student was arrested as he attempted to walk out of the lecture hall along with dozens of other individuals.
The presence of a Muslim Student Union on the UCI campus is particularly critical in the post9/11 era. Following September 11th, Muslims in America have faced intensified hate crimes, violence, and discrimination, as well as racial, ethnic, and religious profiling by local and federal law enforcement.2 FBI harassment and surveillance of Muslims in Irvine, including UCI MSU students, is well-documented; for example, in 2009, FBI informant Craig Monteilh confessed to surveilling many local mosques and community groups.3 Many Muslims in the area have reported that they are afraid to attend mosques or community centers for fear of harassment, discrimination, or interrogation.4 This hostile environment makes the presence of a safe space on campus for Muslim students all the more necessary. Disbanding the MSU, even temporarily, greatly exacerbates these larger harms and further stigmatizes the Muslim community. Even if another Muslim group is allowed to form to alleviate these concerns, banning the MSU nonetheless marginalizes this vulnerable community and brands them as perpetual outsiders.5 The Recommended Ban Is Unparalleled In Its Severity and Constitutes Selective Enforcement The MSU has consistently denied coordinating the Oren protest. However, even if UCI could prove otherwise, the recommendation to suspend the MSU is unparalleled in its severity. UCI cannot claim this recommendation is an application of neutral policies, given the lack of precedent for the suspension of a University of California student group for something other than hazing- or alcohol-related charges.6 These ten students are hardly the first to protest speakers on University campuses; there have been countless campus protests of speakers, many of which were even officially sanctioned by student groups, none of which resulted in the types of sanctions here proposed. For example, at UCI in 2006, student protesters from groups such as Students for Peace and Justice interrupted a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series speaker, Jagdish Bhagwati, to the point that he was unable to finish his remarks. However, no reprimands were issued against any student groups or individuals for the disruption.7 Similarly, in 2001, College Republicans prevented Amir Abdel Malek Ali from speaking altogether at a UCI event. The protestors blocked the speaker from view, chanted so loudly that he could not continue his speech, and allegedly even took away the speaker’s microphone. None of these students were cited or reprimanded; to the contrary, UCI later hired one protester for an administrative position.8 Further, no investigation was conducted to determine whether the College Republicans group coordinated the disruption.9
http://www.asianlawcaucus.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/AACAJ_PFA-Brochure.pdf at pp. 20-25. http://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/cerd_finalreport.pdf. 3 http://www.infocusnews.net/content/view/15942/135/. 4 http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jun/07/local/me-muslim7. 5 Banning the MSU will similarly deprive the broader UCI campus community of the services and contributions of this group. UCI’s MSU has a long history of public service and was recently honored by the Cross Cultural Center with the Social Justice Award for its advocacy work for the disadvantaged. The group also contributes a unique perspective on numerous high profile current events in Middle East politics. Limiting other students’ exposure to these viewpoints disadvantages UCI students and stifles a very live debate on politics of the region. 6 http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/15/local/la-me-0615-uci-muslim-20100615; http://www.muzzlewatch.com/2010/06/21/uc-irvines-muslim-student-union-possibly-suspended-for-1-year-forisraeli-ambassador-protest/. 7 http://www.newuniversity.org/2006/05/news/globalization_critics_disrupt_cdf83/. 8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GlPF7Jfl8Y; http://www.ocregister.com/articles/maclean-229288-recallsignatures.html?pic=2. 9 There are numerous other examples of student groups and individual students protesting invited speakers. Another recent example occurred in 2005 when protesting students disrupted a speech delivered by John C. Yoo at U.C. Irvine. Students in the room repeatedly interrupted and heckled him, and students outside pounded so hard on the
The harsh sanction under consideration here starkly contrasts these earlier protests, especially given that, unlike the above examples, the 10 students did not prevent Oren from finishing his speech. Though the University may, under certain conditions, impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of protected speech, doing so in a non-content neutral fashion is unconstitutional.10 The decision to act against the MSU, while ignoring the behavior of other groups, targets the MSU because of the content of their speech, and as such is abhorrent to the Constitution. This blatantly disparate treatment, which is even more outrageous given the fact that the University took no action to investigate the clearly illegal behavior of many Oren supporters who yelled racial epithets and death threats at the individual protesters, sends a message that UCI selectively censures particular political views, and cannot be understood as anything other than selective enforcement of campus policies.11 This conclusion is only strengthened by the well-documented efforts of various powerful outside groups, all of whom oppose these students’ political views, to influence the sanctions meted out.12 Further, the clear political bias of various U.C. officials further evidences the lack of neutrality in adjudicating the charges against both the student protesters and the MSU. As U.C. President Mark Yudof admitted, “it is difficult for me to separate my public role as President of a state university from my private life as a Jewish man who is active in Jewish causes and a strong defender of Israel.”13 The Ban Sets a Dangerous Precedent That Threatens All Student Groups The proposed ban also sets an extremely dangerous precedent that affects all groups whose views are opposed by campus officials, outside groups, or that are beyond what the mainstream views as “acceptable.” Such action by the University will send a message that only certain types of speech, that favored by the administration, will be tolerated, and will be viewed by many students and student organizations as such. As Victor Sanchez, president of the University of California Student Association, stated, “[i]t’s almost impossible not to interpret [the ban of the MSU] as a means of the university to silence dissent.”14 This is especially frightening given the fact that the University of California is a public university. Therefore, these punitive measures against the MSU should be abandoned immediately. 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. Such a decision would amount to selective punishment of a group whose ideas are
glass window of the room that Yoo was “barely audible.” The protesters were merely escorted outside by university police, and none were penalized. http://www.ocweekly.com/2005-02-10/news/f-yoo. 10 Ward v. Rock against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989); Turner Broad. Sys. v. F.C.C., 512 U.S. 622, 643 (1994). 11 For other examples, see http://canuckmediamonitor.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=60. 12 It is well known that representatives of various pro-Israeli organizations spoke at length with U.C. President Mark Yudof to discuss the sanctions against the MSU. The Jewish Federation – Orange County also admitted that it was working “intensely” with local, national, and international leadership to punish the student protesters for engaging in an absolutely typical campus protest. The Zionist Organization of America has similarly attempted to influence UCI’s decision in favor of harsh punishment by calling for academic and financial boycotts of UCI. http://ocjewishexperience.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/oc-community-leaders-visit-mark-yudof/; http://jta.org/news/article/2010/02/16/1010652/zoa-calls-for-funding-freeze-to-irvine. 13 http://www.infocusnews.net/content/view/35749/1031/. 14 http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/15/local/la-me-0615-uci-muslim-20100615/2.
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. Sincerely, Asian Law Caucus Afghan-American Bar Association American Muslims for Palestine Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Arab Resource & Organizing Center Center for Constitutional Rights Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Council on American-Islamic Relations, California Jewish Voice for Peace Muslim Legal Fund of America National Lawyers Guild Sikh Coalition South Asian Americans Leading Together South Asian Bar Association – Northern California
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