HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two University of Connecticut students arrested for shouting a racial slur outside a campus apartment complex sued the school Tuesday, citing free speech rights as they fight officials’ attempts to remove them from school housing.
Jarred Karal, of Plainville, and Ryan Mucaj, of Granby, both 21, filed the lawsuit in federal court, seeing undisclosed damages and a halt to disciplinary proceedings against them.
The two students say the school is violating their First Amendment rights by bringing disciplinary hearings that have included a recommendation to remove them from student housing for violating a “disruptive behavior” policy. The proceedings remain pending.
They also allege school officials are violating the terms of a 1990 federal consent decree issued in another UConn student free speech case that bars the school from enforcing policies that interfere with First Amendment rights, when the speech doesn’t involve violence or the threat of violence.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the school does not comment on pending litigation.
The students’ lawyer, Mario Cerame, also declined to comment.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that defends the rights of college students and faculty, agrees with the lawsuit, saying public institutions cannot punish protected speech.
“As the Supreme Court explained long ago, ‘the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us’ — by penalizing the use of particular words directed at nobody in particular,” the group said in a statement.
Police said Karal and Mucaj said the racial slur several times while walking with a third student through the parking lot of UConn’s Charter Oak Apartments complex on Oct. 11. Karal and Mucaj are white. The third student was not charged.
It was recorded on video by a black student and led to campus protests against racism. Free speech advocates said that while the slur is offensive, uttering it is not criminal.
Karal told police the group was playing a game in which they would yell an offensive word, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The first person who refuses to say the word loses, he said. They decided to change the game to shouting the racial epithet, he said.
Karal and Mucaj were charged with ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race, a misdemeanor. Karal was granted a probation program that could result in the charge being dismissed. The case against Mucaj is pending.