Harassment alleged by Jewish students during political events at the University of California, Berkeley is protected by the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled last week in dismissing a lawsuit filed by two Jewish students.
But the examples enumerated in the suit are not enough to prove liability, wrote U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg. Instances of intimidation include SJP speakers calling one of the plaintiffs a "terrorist supporter" in front of 100 people at an event and mock checkpoints erected on campus complete with "realistic looking assault weapons."
The conduct of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) falls into the category of "pure political speech and expressive conduct, in a public setting," Seeborg ruled, which is protected by the First Amendment. Even if other students found the speech "contained language that plaintiffs believe was inflammatory, offensive or untrue," it is still protected.
Despite Jewish students' complaint to school officials in 2008 saying that they did not feel that the UC police and faculty were doing anything to curb SJP's intimidation and harassment, Seeborg ruled that the university is not at fault.
"Plaintiffs fail to show how defendants have acted with "deliberate indifference" in ignoring wrongful conduct not amounting to protected speech," wrote Seeborg. Some of the episodes highlighted in the case led to arrests, Seeborg wrote, and school officials "engaged in an ongoing dialogue … in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions."
Felber and Maissy sought a five year ban on MSA and SJP on campus and removal of university funding for those groups. Seeborg ruled that the case did not show "that it [the university] could restrict funding to SJP and MSA without running afoul of serious First Amendment issues."
The pair can amend the complaint to allege specific violations of their rights. Their lawyer, Joel Siegel, said that they are reviewing their options.