Publications : Opinion Pieces  

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

If you are concerned about anti-Semitism on your campus, or if you seek advice about best practices, contact us.

Our attorneys and experts are here to help!
Research Articles
and Reports
Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
Sign Up for The Brandeis Brief
Advisory Board Spotlight

Todd F. Braunstein, Esq.
Todd F. Braunstein is a counsel in the Investigations & Criminal Litigation practice group at the law firm WilmerHale, LLP. As a former federal prosecutor, he has years of experience in all phases of the investigative process, on both the government and the defense side.
read more