By Nicole Santa Cruz in Orange County|February 22, 2011|6:55 p.m.
About 20 current and retired faculty members at UC Davis have joined a group of 100 UC Irvine faculty members in asking the Orange County district attorney to drop criminal charges against 11 Muslim students who disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The UC Davis faculty members sent a letter to the district attorney’s office Tuesday stating that the university campus should be a “place for civil discourse and debate.”
[Corrected at 10:02 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the letter was sent Wednesday.]
On Feb. 4, the attorney’s office charged 11 students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside with misdemeanors for the incident, in which Israeli ambassador Michael Oren was repeatedly shouted down during a speech.
Since then, various individuals and organizations, including the Jewish Voice for Peace, have spoken against the charges, saying that the students and the Muslim Student Union had already been disciplined by the university. The organization has denied planning the protest.
The letter stated that the criminal charges will have a “chilling effect” on free speech. “To respond to such an act with criminal prosecution is excessive,” it stated.
Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a statement Feb. 4 that the students were charged because of an "organized attempt to squelch the speaker." He said the students "meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting."
The students are charged with two misdemeanor counts, including conspiracy to disrupt the speech. If convicted, each faces up to six months in jail.
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