The Wider World

“Cursing cheerleader” wins case

A TEENAGE GIRL who was punished by her school for an off-campus internet post won her case in a decision today from the U.S. Supreme Court (Shutterstock).

Can a public school student be punished for profane comments made off campus?

On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one case that it was a violation of that student’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. The high court ruled in favor of Brandi Levy, who was kicked off the junior varsity cheerleading team for using curse words and an obscene gesture in an online post expressing her anger at not being selected for the varsity cheer squad, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling was 8-1 in favor of Levy, who is now a college student. The incident happened four years ago, and the First Amendment lawsuit has been working its way through the federal judiciary since then. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter.

“America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion. “Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.’”

According to The New York Times, Levy was a student at a Pennsylvania high school at the time of her four-letter word protest. She was off-campus when she made the post on SnapChat, a platform on which entries disappear quickly, but one viewer took a screenshot of the remarks.

The ruling, which was not considered a comprehensive policy on freedom of expression for students, did nevertheless appear to set some standards. “She did not identify the school in her posts or target any member of the school community with vulgar or abusive language,” and sent her message to a “private circle of … friends,” wrote Breyer.

Thomas argued that social media “often will have a greater proximate tendency to harm the school environment than with an off-campus in-person conversation.”



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