Muslim students' speech trial goes to Calif jury

September 21, 2011 - 3:20 AM

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A jury is considering the limits of free speech as it deliberates in the trial of 10 Muslim students charged with disrupting a speech by an Israeli diplomat at the University of California, Irvine.

The panel must decide whether the students broke the law or were exercising a right to demonstrate in a case that has stirred a spirited debate about free speech in Irvine, an affluent suburb south of Los Angeles.

The jury received the case Tuesday after hearing closing arguments.

Prosecutors said the students carefully planned their protest during Ambassador Michael Oren's February 2010 speech about U.S.-Israel relations, and that emails among members of the Muslim Student Union before the protest showed students were aware they could be arrested.

They argued the students acted as censors when they repeatedly shouted at Oren and infringed on the rights of 700 people who had gone to the campus that evening to hear him.

Defense lawyers don't dispute that the students planned to protest at the speech.

They argued that the students acted within the law by doing what other demonstrators have done during campus lectures. Those people shouted at speakers but weren't arrested or sanctioned, they said.

The students face misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt a meeting and disrupting a meeting. If convicted, they face sentences ranging from probation with community service and fines to a year in jail.