U.S. Supreme Court ponders cheerleader’s profanity in free speech debate

A Pennsylvania teenager whose profanity-laced outburst on social media got her banished from her high school’s cheerleading squad is in the spotlight at the U.S. Supreme Court this week, arguing “I shouldn’t have to be afraid to express myself.”

Brandi Levy, who made her Snapchat post away from school and on a weekend, is at the center of a major case testing the limits of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. The nine justices on Wednesday are set to hear arguments in the Mahanoy Area School District’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Levy that found that the First Amendment bars public school officials from regulating off-campus speech.

Levy’s indelicate May 2017 Snapchat post came two days after Mahanoy Area High School, in Pennsylvania’s coal region, held its cheerleading tryouts. The ninth-grader, who had been a junior varsity cheerleader, was still infuriated about being left off the varsity squad.

At a convenience store in Mahanoy City on a Saturday, she posted a picture of her and a friend holding up their middle fingers, adding a caption using the same curse word four times to voice her displeasure with cheerleading, softball, school and “everything.”

She was 14 years old at the time. She is now an 18-year-old college student studying accounting.

“I feel like students should be protected and be able to express themselves without getting any form of punishment for it from the school,” Levy said in an interview. “It’ll set an example for everyone that it’s okay for people to express their feelings out of school.”

Coaches ousted Levy from the squad for a year, saying she had broken various rules and undermined team cohesion. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Levy and her parents sued the district seeking reinstatement to the squad and a judgment that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

Source: Reuters