Cheerleaders have a First Amendment right to complain about cheerleading, even by posting "fuck cheer" on Snapchat, according to a recent, praiseworthy ruling in a federal district court.
The case concerned a teenage girl, referred to as "B.L." in the lawsuit, who was angry about being placed on the junior varsity cheer team as a sophomore even though a first-year girl had made varsity. She vented by taking a selfie with her middle finger raised. She captioned the photo "fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything," then posted it on Snapchat for 250 friends to see.
Unfortunately for B.L., one of these friends was the cheerleading coach's daughter, and the girl soon found herself removed from the squad. B.L.'s parents filed suit, and the case made its way to court.
In siding with B.L., District Judge Richard Caputo has affirmed an incredibly important First Amendment precedent: Kids do not lose their free speech rights when they become students, and schools may only punish objectionable speech if it truly disrupts an educational environment. B.L. wasn't even at school when she sent the snap, and it did not specifically reference her school or her cheerleading team, just "school" and "cheer" in general.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania represented B.L.
"The court recognized that public schools have no authority to discipline students for off-campus speech, except in very narrow circumstances," says Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU's Pennsylvania state chapter, in a statement. "Public schools need to stick to educating students and stay out of the business of disciplining them during their off hours."
Violations of college students' free speech rights attract a lot of attention from the national media these days, and even President Donald Trump says he's concerned about them. But defending the First Amendment rights of K–12 students is no less important. Perhaps if the free speech rights of kids were better protected, they would appreciate those rights more—and be more apt to defend them when they go on to college.