Supreme Court sides with high school cheerleader in dispute over freedom of speech

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of a high school cheerleader whose parents filed suit after she was suspended from the junior varsity squad for posting a profanity-laden rant on Snapchat.

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In an 8-1 ruling, the court sided with Brandi Levy, who was a 14-year-old high school freshman at Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania when she expressed her disappointment over not making the varsity cheerleading team on Snapchat with a string of curse words and a raised middle finger. She was not at school when she made the post, though officials still suspended her from the junior varsity cheerleading team for one year because of it.

In the court’s majority opinion, penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, justices acknowledged that public schools have a special interest in regulating student speech even while students are off campus, but they said that only applies to speech which can cause a substantial disruption of class or school activities.

>> Read the Supreme Court’s ruling

In Levy’s case, the court held that “the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome (her) interest in free expression.”

The case arose from a post Levy made in May 2017 on Snapchat, according to Reuters. In the post, she and a friend were pictured raising their middle fingers and using vulgar language repeatedly after she was was left off the varsity cheerleading squad.

“(Expletive) school (expletive) softball (expletive) cheer (expletive) everything,” she wrote near the end of her freshman year, according to The Associated Press. Now 18, Levy recently finished her first year of college.

Levy’s parents filed a federal lawsuit after the cheerleading coach suspended her from the junior varsity team for a year as a result of her Snapchat post. Lower courts ruled in Levy’s favor, and she was reinstated.

“(Levy’s) posts, while crude, did not amount to fighting words. ... And while (Levy) used vulgarity, her speech was not obscene as this Court has understood that term,” Breyer wrote. “To the contrary, (Levy) uttered the kind of pure speech to which, were she an adult, the First Amendment would provide strong protection.”

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he would have upheld Levy’s suspension.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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