Four California high school students are suing their school for suspending them after they liked and commented on racist Instagram posts.
According to the Mercury News, the lawsuit claims the students were forced to line up on campus as others hurled insults at them.
The teens asked a federal judge to remove any disciplinary action from their academic records at Albany High School. They also requested the opportunity to make up missed work while they were suspended.
In March, the four students liked and commented on Instagram posts featuring the school's girls basketball team and coach, who are mostly women of color, with nooses drawn on their necks. Another showed the team posed side-by-side with apes.
Their lawyer said that the teens' behavior was "not pleasant speech but constitutionally protected speech," and all they want to do is return to school.
According to the Mercury News, the suit alleges that the discussions were private and the school looked into students' accounts without having the right to do so.
"All conduct at issue in this matter occurred off school property, were conducted off school hours, and were otherwise completely unrelated to school activity," the lawsuit says.
District superintendent Valerie Williams told the news outlet that the school is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond soon.
"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," Williams continued. "The district intends to defend this commitment and its conduct within the court system."
Attorney Dan Horotwitz told Mercury News that the teens' "hateful beliefs" are "100 percent protected."
"You have the right to be racist in this country, and you have the right not to be racist in this country," Horowitz told the paper. "This turns the school into the Thought Police."
A family member of one of the girls featured in an image the teens liked disagreed, saying the girls' safety and ability to perform in school have been affected.
Another told the paper that she does not think their actions constitute free speech.
"This is bullying. This is racist. This is sexist. They were attacking kids," she said.
"Everybody has the right to talk about issues, but this wasn't talk about issues," she said. "This was an attack on minorities. ... They're the ones that were damaged. Not the other kids."