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Protecting Free Speech and Banning Hecklers


Aviva Vogelstein, Brandeis Blog

May 4, 2016
 

North Carolina’s Lt. Governor Dan Forest is proposing a bill that would impose punishments on hecklers who “interrupt the free expression of others” by shouting down speakers on the state’s 17-campus public university system, according to the Associated Press.

If North Carolina passes this legislation, it will join six other states that have taken up free-speech legislation for their public campuses, but North Carolina’s legislation would be the first to specifically target hecklers. Critics argue that this bill could be treading a fine line between protecting the free speech rights of others, and censorship, so the text of the bill matters significantly. However, as long as it does not censor speech, such a bill has great potential to protect the free speech rights of speakers on North Carolina’s campuses.

Lt. Governor Forest’s office said, “f a speaker has been invited by a student group, another in the university community does not have the right to interrupt that speech, shout over the speaker, or otherwise prevent others from listening to the speech.”

In recent months, numerous speakers – particularly pro-Israel speakers – have been shouted down by disruptors on college campuses across the country, in violation of their First Amendment rights.

For example, at UC Davis in March, a disruptive protest temporarily halted a lecture by Israeli-Arab diplomat George Deek. Mr. Deek could not be heard until the raucous protesters chose to leave.

At San Francisco State University in April, dozens of anti-Israel protestors disrupted Israel mayor Nir Barkat’s speech with chants of “Intifada! Intifada! Long Live the Intifada!” (the term “intifada” has long been associated with violence against Jews, and is especially troubling in the context of recent attacks on Jewish civilians in Israel) and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free!” (calling for the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel).

Earlier this academic year, at UT Austin and the University of Minnesota, Israeli professors were also disrupted by protestors in violation of their First Amendment rights to speak, and in violation of the listeners’ right to listen. And this is just a small sampling of such occurrences.

We eagerly await the outcome of this soon-to-be proposed legislation.

Original Article



 
 
 
 
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Judd A. Serotta, Esq.
Judd A. Serotta is a litigation partner at Blank Rome LLP. He has over 16 years of experience successfully litigating complex commercial disputes in a host of different federal and state jurisdictions throughout the United States, as well as through alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
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