standing Uconn sign

Photo courtesy UConn National C Club website

HARTFORD — A federal judge has ruled that two University of Connecticut students cannot be kicked out of university housing while their First Amendment lawsuit is in progress.

Ryan Mucaj and Jarred Karal were arrested and charged last fall for repeatedly shouting racial slurs outside an on-campus residence, and face the potential loss of university housing from the school’s internal discipline process, the Hartford Courant reported Friday.

The students also face criminal charges of ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality, or race. Karal has been granted probation that could result in his criminal charges being dismissed, Mucaj’s criminal case is pending.

In their lawsuit, Mucaj and Karal argue that they are being punished for speech protected under the First Amendment.

“The (students) have demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm should the disciplinary hearing proceed, specifically, from the chilling effect on speech and from the potential disciplinary sanction of the loss of their campus housing,” U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea wrote.

Phone messages and emails were left with the attorneys of Mucaj and Karal.

According to the lawsuit, university officials are enforcing a violation of the student code of conduct.

“The Disruptive Behavior policy, as implemented and as written, is a de facto prior restraint, affording university officials essentially freewheeling and standardless discretion over speech as to content and viewpoint, as officials deem what speech falls within the policy and is impermissible,” the lawsuit reads. “The Disruptive Behavior policy is unconstitutionally overbroad, unlawfully restricting speech.”

Shea wrote that the university can not discipline the students during the proceedings of the criminal trial.

Prosecutors said in a court filing that shouting a slur does not grant protection under the First Amendment.

“The words conveyed nothing, except that these two students were engaged in loud and disruptive behavior,” Assistant Attorney General Ralph E. Urban wrote. “If the plaintiffs had stood outside the dormitory and yelled nonsense words, or simply created loud noises, the same disciplinary investigation might well have ensued.”

A UConn spokeswoman said the school does not comment on pending litigation.

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