Supreme Court, The First Amendment, and The Cursing Cheerleader: Read It For Yourself
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in a case involving a viral Snapchat video of a high school cheerleader telling her school to go…well, anyway they ruled she has a first amendment right to do so.
In a victory for student speech rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a former cheerleader’s online F-bombs about her school is protected speech under the First Amendment.
But in an 8-1 vote, the court also declared that school administrators do have the power to punish student speech that occurs online or off campus if it genuinely disrupts classroom study. But the justices concluded that a few swearwords posted online off school grounds, as in this case, did not rise to the definition of disruptive.
At issue in the case was a series of F-bombs issued in 2017 on Snapchat by Brandi Levy, then a 14-year-old cheerleader who failed to win a promotion from the junior varsity to the varsity cheerleading team at her Pennsylvania school.
“I was really upset and frustrated at everything,” she said in an interview with NPR in April. So she posted a photo of herself and a friend flipping the bird to the camera, along with a message that said, “F*** the school. … F*** cheer, F*** everything.”
Suspended from the team for what was considered disruptive behavior, Levy — and her parents — went to court. They argued that the school had no right to punish her for off-campus speech, whether it was posted online while away from school or spoken out loud at a Starbucks across the street from school.
A federal appeals court agreed with her, declaring that school officials have no authority to punish students for speech that occurs in places unconnected to the campus.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled for Levy while at the same time declaring that schools may in fact punish some speech, especially if it is harassing, bullying, cheating or otherwise disruptive.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that while “public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech,” the justifications offered for punishing Levy’s speech were simply insufficient. “To the contrary,” said Breyer, the speech that Levy uttered “is the kind of pure speech to which, were she an adult, the First Amendment would provide strong protection.”
Read the Supreme Court’s First Amendment decision here: