MISSION VIEJO — Under criticism from Jewish organizations, the South Orange County Community College District is taking steps to curb offensive and derogatory remarks by speakers at public meetings.
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups asked the district's board of trustees to control its meetings, which recently have been marked by angry disputes and vitriolic comments about Jews and the Holocaust.
"Some people have said some hurtful things, and it's gotten kind of ugly," said board President John S. Williams. "If people are going to start making comments like 'The Holocaust didn't occur,' I'm going to stop them. I'm certainly not trying to restrict free speech, but certainly people have to understand that there is decorum."
The district is increasing uniformed and plain-clothes security at trustee meetings and adopting a zero-tolerance policy on threats of physical confrontation. In addition, trustees will not allow "vitriolic, racial or ethnic remarks, slurs or insulting, demeaning or foul language."
The measures were drafted by college administrators and campus security and were reviewed by Williams.
At one meeting, a speaker said that the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died, was "nothing but 6 million lies." Another speaker rose to say, "It's become a racket. Everywhere you go, every time you pick up the paper, turn on the radio, the TV, here's some Jew screaming about this and that and everything else."
Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she applauds the trustees' effort but does not believe the measures go far enough.
"There needs to be an ability for people to express their opinions, [and] it needs to be safe and done in a respectful way," Greenspan said. "But it's a Band-Aid approach [rather than] really looking at what the problem on that board really is."
The problem, Greenspan said, is controversial Trustee Stephen J. Frogue.
Frogue is the target of a recall effort, partly because he advocated a seminar featuring a speaker who argued that Israel played a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Another intended speaker questioned the historical accuracy of the Holocaust.
Plans for the seminar to take place on campus were dropped after the district received hundreds of phone calls in protest.
District officials say they have heard reports that some students are not willing to come to trustee meetings for fear there may be violence. Williams and acting Chancellor Kathleen O'Connell Hodge said they want to assure the public that the meetings are safe.
"We will have officers in attendance at the meeting," Hodge said. "We will be aware of public safety."