SCOTUS Favors Profanity-Spewing PA Cheerleader In Free-Speech Case
SCOTUS Favors Profanity-Spewing PA Cheerleader In Free-Speech Case
Supreme Court rules school wrong to punish cheerleader for profane Snapchat rant in 8-1 free speech decision
24 June, 2021, 02:57
In an 8-1 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court said schools' authority to regulate student speech is highly limited in off-campus settings, including on social media.
Brandi Levy, the cheerleader who has since graduated from high school, was kicked off the junior varsity team for a foul-mouthed social media post that the legal battle in 2017.
Justice Thomas, however, dissented from the Court's conclusion, asserting that, historically, such discipline was not considered a free speech violation.
"The justices have made the right call, recognizing how a judgment for the school district would undoubtedly open the floodgates for school authorities to mete out discipline to students for all manner of off-campus speech", said Jonathan Friedman, director at PEN America, a free expression advocacy group.
Though he acknowledged, "Unlike the Third Circuit, we do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off-campus".
"The school's regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances", it continued.
The case drew extra interest at a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the harmful effects of online bullying.
Friends and teammates of Levy's had taken screenshots of the post which eventually made their way to coaches and school officials that led to her removal from the squad.
Levy is now 18 and a freshman at Bloomsburg University. Days later, Lee's school accused her of breaching a code of conduct and suspended her from cheerleading for an entire year.
Brandi Levy, a former cheerleader in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, and a key figure in a major case about free speech, in an undated photo provided by the American Civil Liberties Union. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines doesn't apply to off-campus speech.
"We can not lose sight of the fact that, in what otherwise might seem a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege ... fundamental societal values are truly implicated", the justice wrote quoting directly from the court's 1971 ruling in Cohen v. California.
"It might be tempting to dismiss B.L.'s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein", the Court opinion said.
"B.L. uttered the kind of pure speech to which, were she an adult, the First Amendment would provide strong protection", Justice Breyer wrote. "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary", Breyer wrote in closing his opinion. Levy has granted numerous interviews allowing her name to be used.
However, the court held that the student's speech did not reach that threshold and that the school violated her First Amendment rights by punishing her.
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