[UPDATED] 24 Civic and Faith Leaders Urge DA Tony Rackauckas to Drop Criminal Probe of Irvine 11

UPDATE, FEB. 3, 10 A.M.: The Los Angeles Times this morning jumped on the "Free the Irvine 11" bandwagon by publishing an editorial under that headline. Criminal charges against the students "are not appropriate" and "would be overkill" and could result in "a punishment out of proportion to the offense," opines the Times Editorial Board, which concludes, "Now it's time to move on."

Of course, given Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' distrust of the Times, the editorial may tip his justice scale in favor of felonies.

Read the full editorial here.

Protesters unfurl a banner in Santa Ana Tuesday denouncing a criminal probe of the Irvine 11.
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 3, 7:39 A.M.: Twenty-four civic and faith leaders have signed an open letter urging District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to stop pursuing felony charges against 11 students who disrupted a February 2010 speech at UC Irvine by Israel's ambassador to the U.S.

"It is difficult for us to put into words the extent to which this development disturbs the conscience and would disrupt the DA's ability to establish meaningful justice," states the letter from prominent legal and religious figures in Orange County and Southern California.

"Our vision for Orange County is that it be a place where all faith groups are treated with equal respect and due process of law, where no political viewpoint is penalized, and where all of our public officials and offices utilize their stations to promote these ends," continues the letter, which ends with a plea to Rackauckas, who was recently sworn in again as DA and has already announced his intention to seek reelection in 2014:

"We therefore request that you assist in ending what we believe to be an unnecessary and excessive response to the events of February 2010 by exercising your discretion to not indict the students on criminal charges."

Rackauckas, a Republican, may appreciate (or not) the letter borrowing from the 2010 GOP playbook by hitting him in the wallet and questioning his love of the U.S. Constitution. The message questions using tax dollars and limited public resources to pursue the investigation. It later notes, "Because the right to freely express oneself, particularly against government policies, is a cherished freedom protected by our Constitution, only in very narrow circumstances may these activities be subdued by state action."

Those signing the letter (which is presented in full on the next page) include: Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development; Salam Al-Maryati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; Hussam Ayloush, executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area; Issa Edah-Tally, president, Islamic Center of Irvine; and Shk. Muhammad Faqih, Islamic Institute of Orange County.

Also, the Reverend Sarah Halverson, Fairview Community Church; Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyer's Guild, Los Angeles Chapter; the Reverend Darrell McGowan, senior pastor at First Christian Church of Fullerton; and Hector Villagra, incoming executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. Mike Penn, who was forman of the Orange County grand jury during the 2006-07 term, is also among the signers.

Michael Oren, an American-born Israeli scholar, author and Israeli ambassador to the U.S., was forced to pause his speech for 20 minutes on Feb. 8, 2010, due to multiple interruptions by students accusing Israel of crimes against humanity. Campus police arrested 11 students, most of whom were from UCI but some of whom came from UC Riverside. The university's Muslim Student Union, which claimed no part in the protest, was later punished with one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.

The UCI administration's treatment of the students and MSU has drawn criticism from supporters decrying censorship and foes who believe the students as well as those who believe they should be more severely punished, including some who want MSU permanently shut down on campus.

The most recent protest on the students' behalf was Tuesday afternoon in front of Rackauckas' Santa Ana office, where about 50 protesters gathered to blast the grand jury investigation of the so-called Irvine 11.

At the protest, which featured young Muslims with duct tape affixed over their mouths, Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, accused the DA of wasting the county's limited resources by reopening charges against the students. That contention is also made in the open letter to Rackauckas. Syed is also among the community leaders who signed the letter, which follows on the next page.

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