The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing in on a case of a social-media insult, saying that charging a Connecticut high school student over a racial epithet aimed at a classmate has potentially breached his First Amendment right to free speech.
The student, who is said to be a white 16-year-old, allegedly took a picture of black classmate Jamar Medor in a classroom at Fairfield Warde High School and posted it on Snapchat on May 7. The photo was captioned: “Why is there a n***** in my homeroom? Why is he not in chains?”
The student who shared the image and wrote the comment was charged with a state hate crime: ridicule on account of creed, religion, colon, denomination, nationality or race.
The charge brought praise from civil rights activists, including a local NAACP chapter, but the ACLU is warning that criminal charges against the boy breach his constitutional right to speak freely, no matter what the content of that speech.
Senior ACLU staff attorney Emerson Sykes explained: “Having racist ideas or sharing racist ideas is something that we actually protect … Even if that viewpoint is offensive, even if it’s deplorable, we don’t want the government making the call about what’s OK to say and think and what is not.”
Sykes said a more appropriate course might be for school officials to discipline the student because of the disruption the incident has caused.
A petition calling for the student to be expelled claimed that expulsion had happened. The school refused to confirm this when contacted by DailyMail.com, citing student privacy rules. The student was also charged with breaching the peace, and was initially said to have been suspended for 10 days as a result.