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. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 5 May 2011 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Wacked Mess

    I think you're putting too much emphasis on that. This particular trial wasn't about the rape. There was a separate one for that, and the boy served his time, paid his dues, however you want to call it. You can argue (and I do) that his punishment wasn't enough, but that isn't part of this case.

    She voluntarily joined a group whose purpose it is to cheer for the basketball team and its players. She didn't want to do that, so she was kicked off. And I think rightfully so. If you don't want to do what is asked of you by a group then they shouldn't be required to keep you in that group. Especially in this case because she knew upfront what she was going to be asked to do. Now maybe she wanted to stay on the cheer team and have this incident to remind everyone what the boy did. Fine. If that was her purpose, she made her point, and I don't begrudge her of that. But there is no reason for the school to have to keep her on the cheer team if they don't want her to be, and not doing what the cheer team is there to do seems like a good reason to kick her off.

    As for the first amendment rights, they weren't abridged. She didn't want to cheer for the guy, she didn't cheer for the guy. The government can't inhibit your free speech, that doesn't mean they have to provide a forum for your speech. A forum was provided for a certain type of "speech" (the cheer squad). She didn't want to speak with the cheer squad, so she wasn't allowed to stay in that forum. I could see this as problematic if the forum was the school grounds or something else broader, but we're talking about a club/group with limited membership. Are you going to argue that free speech is abridged when people don't make the cuts?

    That all being said, the school could have been more sensitive to her feelings. They obviously thought she deserved to be on the cheer team more than others. They could have allowed her to not cheer at the basketball games while still letting her be on the squad.

    Also, I think the fact that the suit is considered a frivolous one is also ridiculous. If it's this easy to get a suit declared as frivolous, then I want to start seeing a lot of frivolous lawsuit fines being doled out in East Texas.

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