Cheerleader Told To Pay School She Sued After Being Kicked Off Squad For Refusing To Cheer Guy Who Assaulted Her

from the free-speech? dept

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.

Filed Under: cheerleading, free speech

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Viln (profile), 6 May 2011 @ 12:11am


    Lots of overly emotional posts, not the typical intellectual snarkism you get on a techdirt topic.

    You have to approach the situation as though it were modular, address each decision within the limited scope of context.

    It certainly sounds like there may have been rape, and the boy may have gotten off the hook. I wouldn't find it hard to judge him a typical high school boy / local town hero with a scumbag sense of entitlement, but we don't know what happened, and it has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion. The verdict at that time was misdemeanor assault, we take that and move on logically.

    It was the school's decision to allow the boy to return to the team. I'm sure their decision was 90% selfish desire to improve their sports achievement and 10% concern for the individual's right to pursue happiness. However you feel about that decision, remember: misdemeanor assault, school was still legally in-bounds.

    It was the girl's decision to remain on the cheerleader squad when she failed to convince the powers that be that their decision was boorish and inappropriate. Cheerleading is similar to school theater... if you have personal convictions that conflict with the dialogue of a particular play for which you applied and got a part, and you proceed to deliberately change the lines during the production, you will be removed from the club. You are within your rights as a student to petition against the play's content or school's decision to reproduce it, and you can take it up the chain as high as you want, but you can't accept a spot and then sabotage from within. The production is not a vehicle for your free speech. It's really just that simple.

    The school's reaction was, just like most Texas school sports administrators, overly aggressive and insensitive. The girl's lawsuit was frivolous, absolutely. The appeals court's decision to label it so is surprising given how many other BS lawsuits don't get the same treatment. And lastly, the Supreme Court was ENTIRELY correct in not touching this case with a 10 ft pole.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.