Free Speech Debate Heats up Following Student Arrest

Free Speech Debate Heats Up Following Student Arrest

( – The right to free speech has come under fire recently, particularly regarding its use on social media. Big Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter find themselves increasingly the subject of public and legal scrutiny for their efforts to censor free expression. As it turns out, they aren’t the only ones.

The recent arrest of a Connecticut teenager accused of posting racist remarks about an African-American classmate on Snapchat sparked debate about the limits of free speech.

On May 7, a Fairfield High School student reportedly posted a classmate’s photo along with racist comments and a well-known racial slur. The African-American student’s mother told members of the media the student who posted the image is white.

Fairfield police officers arrested the high schooler responsible for the post shortly afterward, kicking off a debate about the limits of free speech.

Police Arrest Stirs Controversy

Police officers arrested the student using a state hate crime charge dating back to 1917. That law prohibits publicly ridiculing someone based on color, creed, denomination, race, religion, and the like. Connecticut’s Civil Liberties Union and a few law school professors say the law is constitutionally impermissible.

The national office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agreed. Senior staff attorney Emerson Sykes says the ACLU “actually protect[s]” the right to have or share racist ideas. According to him, it matters not how offensive that opinion might be. He also said it’s not up to the government to decide what’s permissible speech and what isn’t allowed.

School districts frequently discipline students for making racist comments, but it’s less common for the police to get involved. The mother of the student who was targeted, Judith Medor, reportedly told The Associated Press that she thinks the student who made the remarks should be in jail and expressed concerns for her family’s safety. The Greater Bridgeport NAACP also called for the student to face charges.

The Fairfield School declined to answer questions regarding any efforts to discipline the student citing privacy concerns. However, it did state that they were being held accountable for their post.

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