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Defending the right to heckle

Defending the right to heckle

Episcopal Church leaders in California have voiced strong support for 10 Muslim students who were convicted on Friday of heckling the Israeli ambassador to the United States during a speech at the University of California’s Irvine campus last year.

Pat McCaughan writes:

The Rev. Wilfred Benitez, rector of St. Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Garden Grove, California, called the verdict “a travesty of justice.”

“This attack against Muslim students and the Muslim community is an attack on democracy,” he said at a gathering of media representatives following the verdict. “It’s an attack on all of those who believe in the U.S. Constitution and in freedom of speech.

“We stand together today,” he added. “The Muslim community is not alone in this. On this day I am a Muslim.”

Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles issued a statement after the verdict calling upon “Orange County bishops, rabbis, and Islamic leaders to come together immediately in renewed solidarity to address the issues and injustices raised in relation to these verdicts.

“Our Episcopal congregations will also increase participation in the Shura Council’s Open Mosque Day on October 16 to demonstrate our understanding that Islam is at its core a religion of peace within our shared Abrahamic tradition, and deserving of equal protection under First Amendment freedoms,” he said.


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Associate Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of UCI’s Interfaith Center has made formal complaints against the actions of Muslim Student Union since 2006. He himself has been heckled by the Muslim students when he was trying to speak to a High School group about Arab-Israeli conflict. He said, “…there is just a wave of hatred & racism directed at Jewish students by Muslim students. It literally permeates everything they do… the speakers, the handouts, the programs are all indicative of a deep hatred of Israel…”

The MSU students have extended their “Anti-Zionism” week to nearly a month. They print Tshirts: ‘UCIntifada’, they declare ‘Jihad of the Tongue’, & put up posters, “Holocaust in the Holy Land”, Student Leader Malik Ali praises suicide bombings, Hamas & Hizbollah. His video, ‘Israel-The Politics of Genocide’, is circulated.

tobias haller

JC, it isn’t ad hominem to query levels of investment, or even self-interest, but to assume (which it appeared to me you were doing, though in the form of a query) that opposition to heckling is somehow conditioned, and hence dismissable (?) if it comes from one who is in a position to be heckled. My point is that is irrelevant to whether heckling is right or wrong (aside from the case at hand, which was more than spontaneous heckling). You might as well say that people with property are naturally going to be upset by theft, so we can discount their opinion on its morality!

I oppose the disruption of public discourse — as an assault on free speech — regardless of who is speaking and whether I agree with the point of view expressed. If that means I privilege speakers over hecklers, I suppose I can’t escape it.


But then, Tobias, there’s the question of “whose ox is being gored”: different roles in societal strata create different levels of investment in a given social question. I still do not believe it’s an “ad hominem” to query those levels of investment. JMO.

JC Fisher


I’m with Tobias. The students are apparently claiming that their right to free speech abridges the free speech of someone else.

The goal here for these students was not to be heard. It was to prevent someone of whom they disapprove, from being heard. And far from free speech, t hat’s suppression of speech.

That’s no different than saying that a Roman Catholic’s religious freedom to disapprove of civil marriage equality abridges the right of an Episcopalian to support it.

–Susan Forsburg

tobias haller

JCF, when you say an argument is based on who the person presenting it is, that is “ad hominem.” (There are two types at least, one abusive of the person, the other questioning a position because it is based on personal bias. I refer to the second type. See . “you say that because you’re a priest” is a textbook example. (Perhaps I’m oversensitive to logical fallacies! But I have to deal with them all the time…)

I was shocked at the video. Please do view it, and then offer a defense for the behavior shown.

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