The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Unconstitutional "Racial Ridicule" Prosecution in Connecticut

I have an op-ed about this today in the N.Y. Daily News.


Here's an excerpt, though you can read the whole thing here:

Two University of Connecticut students are being prosecuted for "ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race," according to the Washington Post. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail. Except what they were doing — apparently saying the n-word loudly to each other, "getting louder with each iteration and laughing as they walk by student housing" — doesn't actually violate state law. And even if state law did cover racial insults, it would be unconstitutional under a 1992 Supreme Court decision.

First, consider the text of the racial ridicule law: "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." The law is limited to "advertisements," so it doesn't cover personal conversations or even shouts, whether or not they are racist or religiously bigoted.

(As you might gather, my draft didn't say "the n-word," but when you publish in a newspaper, you're subject to their editorial judgments.)

UPDATE: For more details, see my 2018 post about the statute.