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

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  1. identicon
    Truth, 6 May 2011 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re: Whacked Mess

    People should look into things before they speak. The boy was not convicted of rape but of assault (which he plead guilty to). That was why he was not given a harsher sentence and not removed from the team. The courts and the prosecutor found that they did not have sufficient evidence to charge him with rape. Because he was not charged with rape he was allowed to return to the team and was only punished for the assault charge- the community service and what not. Once he was convicted for the assault charge and was informed that he would be allowed back on the team that was when she had the opportunity to voice her objectives and seek other options. She did not. There was more then enough time between the sentencing for assault and the game she refused to cheer at for her to attempt to get something done. It was the way that she said nothing knowing before hand that as a cheerleader she would have to cheer for the team he was on and yet did nothing. I think that the case was a complete waist of time and effort and may have been an attempt for a quick buck ( I don't know for sure, just a maybe ) but I do think that the amount was a little high for her to have to pay even though she did waist a lot of time. As for her being removed from the team, I have to say that was the right move. I don't know about the school that she attends and what their polices are but when I was in team sports we had contracts that we signed. They included dress codes, grades, and the fact that we had to participate in all team functions unless previous express permission was given. She did not get that permission. I think that the right calls where made except for the amount she had to pay.

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