State lawmakers consider repeal of 'ridicule' law used to charge UConn students

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that would repeal a 1917 law that makes it a crime to "ridicule" certain people.

The same law was used to arrested and charge two U Conn students in October.

A bill before the Connecticut state legislature would repeal a current law that makes it a crime to “ridicule” another person based on “creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race.” The law, passed in 1917, is the same law under which two University of Connecticut students were arrested and charged in October.

As Campus Reform previously reported, Ryan Mucaj and Jarred Karal were arrested after a video surfaced allegedly showing them shouting “n***ger” while walking through a campus parking lot. 

The two were subsequently arrested and charged under a state statute that says, “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.” 

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

The two men later sued the University of Connecticut, alleging the college violated their free speech rights. Mucaj’s case is still ongoing, while Karal has been ordered to complete community service hours and undergo diversity and sensitivity training. 

Amid significant criticism of the charges against the men and the law itself, Connecticut state lawmakers are now considering a bill that would repeal the law. 

“I know the title sort of sounds like, whoa, what are they doing. But...the issue as to whether someone can really face criminal charges for something that has some real questionable constitutionality. I think [it] is at least worth discussing at this point in time,” Republican state Sen. John Kissel said, according to the Associated Press

Douglas Spencer, a law professor at the university currently being sued by the two men arrested, said of the 1917 law, “I don’t think the old statute would survive a constitutional challenge.”

“It is so clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment that it’s hard to believe that it’s still on the books. It punishes speech based on the content of the speech, and that it is one of the key concepts of the First Amendment — that the government cannot punish speech based on its content,”  Quinnipiac University law professor William Dunlap said. 

And UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said the law is “obviously unconstitutional, because it suppresses speech based on its content (and viewpoint), and because there’s no First Amendment exception for speech that insults based on race or religion.”

[RELATED: UConn student arrested for saying n-word must complete community service, bias training]

The review of the Connecticut law comes amid a national debate over whether the First Amendment right to free speech is absolute.


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