SANTA ANA — A judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss the case against a group of college students who disrupted a speech by an Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine.

The defense argued that the students, known as the Irvine 11, were protected by the First Amendment because Israeli Ambassador Michel Oren's February 2010 speech was political in nature — as was their protest.

The laws the Orange County district attorney's office cited were not applicable, the defense reasoned, because the law says disruptions are only prohibited at meetings that are not political or religious in nature.

Judge Peter Wilson disagreed.

The students have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of planning to and disrupting a meeting. The students, through an attorney, have denied planning the disruptions.

The group disrupted Oren during his speech about American-Israeli relations.

The students, who are members of the Muslim Student Unions at UCI and UC Riverside, were arrested during the speech and later released. The incident led to a university administration investigation, resulting in the club's temporary suspension and the students being required to perform community service.

In February of this year, the D.A. filed criminal charges allegeding conspiring to disrupt the public meeting. The move was welcomed by some Jewish groups and supporters, but others said the charges were too severe and the issue should remain within the university.

A gag order was also issued in May after defense attorneys argued that the D.A. office's public statements were tainting the jury pool.

The next hearing is set for 10 a.m. June 30 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.