I'd been aware of an important (but unfortunate) free speech lawsuit involving a cheerleader who refused to cheer for a fellow student who had sexually assaulted her. The girl claimed that the boy had raped her when she was 16. The boy was arrested, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault, and was given various punishments (community service, a fine, probation and an anger management class), but was also allowed back on the basketball team. The girl remained on the cheerleading squad, but then refused to cheer for the boy. This being Texas, where they take high school sports significantly more seriously than much of the rest of the world, the superintendent of the school ordered her to leave the gym, and when she explained her reasons, she was expelled from the cheerleading squad. She then sued the school, claiming it was a violation of her First Amendment rights. The lower courts ruled against her, saying that being a cheerleader means accepting that you're a "mouthpiece" for the school, and thus are required to cheer for whomever the school says you should cheer for. Not only that, but adding insult to injury, the courts said that the lawsuit itself was frivolous and the girl had to pay the school $45,000. The reason the case is getting attention now is that the Supreme Court has declined to hear her appeal
, meaning that her case is done, and she has to pay up.
We cover so many First Amendment cases around here, and this one deserves extra attention, because it seems troubling on a variety of levels. The idea that a student gives up their First Amendment rights by joining a particular activity seems like a very worrisome interpretation of the First Amendment. While it may be true that there are specific requirements to being a cheerleader, it seems that there are certainly ways that a school can handle this that doesn't result in punitive response for her (quite reasonable) unwillingness to cheer for this guy. But the frivolous claim is what really surprises me. As we've seen in various ridiculous cases we cover, it's really difficult to get a case declared frivolous and get legal fees. Even on lots of the copyright troll cases, winning legal fees is nearly impossible. It seems pretty crazy that this girl now has to pay up for her lawsuit here.