Charges against UConn students arrested for 'ridiculing' language 'must be dropped,' legal org says

Now a national student free speech organization is coming to their defense, insisting that the actions against the students are unconstitutional regardless of how offensive their language.

Two University of Connecticut students were arrested Monday after another student reported overhearing them use a racial slur.

A student free speech legal advocacy organization has come to the support of two University of Connecticut students who were arrested Monday for using a racial slur.

As previously reported by Campus Reform, the students were tracked down by the university police and charged under a Connecticut state statute that prohibits “ridiculing” language. Free speech experts say both the investigation and the charge are unconstitutional. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education penned a letter to the University of Connecticut on Wednesday, advising the school to “disclaim the possibility of further punishment” against the students who were arrested Monday for using a racial slur. FIRE accuses the institution of having already made a “stunning departure from its constitutional obligations” in assisting with bringing charges against the students, which FIRE says “must be dropped.” 

The students were arrested after another student filmed them saying the word in what was allegedly a dare scenario. The filming student then contacted university police who used a combination of security footage, card swipe data, and WiFi connection data to track down the students. 

[RELATED: UConn students ARRESTED for ‘ridiculing’ speech in viral video]

”FIRE is deeply concerned by the investigation and arrest of two students by the University of Connecticut Police Department pursuant to a statue that any reasonable police officer would have known is unconstitutional,” FIRE wrote. “However offensive the use of a racial epithet, not directed at any person, the First Amendment protects offensive language, and neither the University of Connecticut nor its police officers may abridge students’ First Amendment rights.”

The organization went on to note that while the word “is deeply offensive to many,” it “does not fall into any recognized exception under the First Amendment,” also pointing out that not only the arrest, but also the investigation itself, is a violation of the students’ constitutional rights. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: Students say offensive speech is not free speech]

“By investigating and arresting students who use offensive language, UConn has departed from its clear and non-negotiable constitutional obligations,” the organization explained.

Furthermore, FIRE claims that even if the law was legitimate, it wouldn’t be applicable to the students’ situation due to the phrase “advertisement” within the statute which reads, “Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be guilty of a class D misdemeanor.”

In a statement to Campus Reform, University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said, “like all of Connecticut’s state laws, Section 53-37 of the Connecticut General Statutes was enacted by the Connecticut General Assembly and remains a valid law to this date. Law enforcement officials are obligated to investigate potential criminal matters and present the results of their investigations to the chief prosecuting official, who determines whether there is probable cause to charge an individual with violations of existing law. Before an arrest warrant is executed, it must be approved by a judge.  That process was followed in this case.”

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