Four Californian teenagers are suing their school district after being suspended for “liking” a racist image on Instagram.
The post depicted nooses drawn around black students’ necks, as well as a black person next to an ape, according to The Mercury News.
The students from Albany, California, claim their free speech rights were violated because they used a private, not public, account to like the images, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims the teenagers were subject to public ridicule, shaming and violence.
“They engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment, and shouldn’t suffer due to engaging in not-pleasant speech but constitutionally protected speech,” Alan Beck, the teenagers’ attorney, told The Mercury News.
Valerie Williams, the superintendent of Albany School District, addressed the community with a letter concerning the lawsuit.
“The district is currently reviewing the lawsuit and will take appropriate action in responding to it,” Williams said. “The district takes great care to ensure that our students feel safe at school, and we are committed to providing an inclusive and respectful learning environment for all of our students. The district intends to defend this commitment and its conduct within the court system.”
Free speech law professor at the University of California, Eugene Volokh, said “likes” are ambiguous, since they can have so many different meanings.
“People of this age click ‘like’ on pretty much everything, and they’ll respond in grunts and single syllables to pretty much anything,” said Darryl Yorkey, another of the students’ attorneys.
The students seek unspecified damages and a court order removing the suspensions from their records.