The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania public school wrongly suspended a student from cheerleading over a vulgar social media post she made after she didn't qualify for the varsity team.
Then-high school sophomore Brandi Levy was given the boot from her junior-varsity cheer team after issuing an off-campus screed in which she said "F-- school f-- softball f-- cheer f-- everything", and posted it online.
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". "L.'s [Brandi Levy's] interest in free expression in this case", Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the ruling. Federal district and appeals courts found the move violated Levy's free speech rights, but offered contrasting reasons for the decisions. That protection must include the protection of unpopular ideas, for popular ideas have less need for protection.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, noting students "who are active in extracurricular programs have a greater potential, by virtue of their participation, to harm those programs".
Maggie Hroncich is an intern at The Federalist and a student at Hillsdale College.
Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law tells CNN that "the line between the off-campus speech that schools can and can't regulate is less than clear" but "the fact that there is a line will have significant ramifications for just about all public school administrators".
The school district and those who sided with it said that schools should be able to punish off-campus speech like Levy's as part of their efforts to regulate cyber-bullying.
Levy is now 18 and a freshman at Bloomsburg University.
Suspended from the team for disruptive behavior, Brandi and her parents went to court.
But when it comes to this case, Breyer wrote the school didn't overcome three measures for regulating off-campus speech.
"It might be tempting to dismiss B". It would have been enough, he said, to say that her speech was protected by the First Amendment because it did not disrupt school activities. "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary". "If today's decision teaches any lesson, it must be that the regulation of many types of off-premises student speech raises serious First Amendment concerns, and school officials should proceed cautiously before venturing into this territory", Alito wrote.