Federal Court Says Teen's 'Fuck Cheer' Is Protected Speech

from the fuck-censorship dept

Pennsylvania teens will be relieved to know their Constitutional right to disparage their school remains intact. A lawsuit brought by a student who was suspended for expressing her displeasure with several school traditions has been given the federal court seal of approval.

At the heart of the case is a string of Snapchatted F-bombs. The student, referred to only as B.L., expressed her displeasure using curse words -- a teen tradition that dates back at least as far as the traditions she expressed her displeasure with. The decision [PDF] recounts the sweary events leading to this Constitutional violation, which began with B.L. being passed over for a varsity cheerleading spot:

Posing in street clothes with a friend, middle fingers raised, B.L. took a “selfie” at the Cocoa Hut, a local store and student stomping ground. On top of the photo, B.L. added the following text: “fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” B.L. then posted the captioned photo—the “Snap”—on her private Snapchat account, where it could have been viewed briefly by about two-hundred and fifty (250) of her friends. She posted a follow-up Snap just after, reading: “Love how me and [my friend] get told we need a year of jv before we make varsity but that[] doesn’t matter to anyone else?” Many of B.L.’s friends on Snapchat are students at District schools; some are fellow cheerleaders.

One of B.L.'s Snapchat "friends" -- who also happened to be a cheerleader and a cheerleading coach's daughter -- took screenshots of this Chat and brought it to the cheerleading coaches. The coaches kicked B.L. off the team, suspending her from cheer activities for an entire year. Supposedly, this was due to multiple complaints about words that routinely come out of teenagers' mouths.

The coaches also claimed B.L. had violated the cheer team rules with her "fuck cheer" post. Specifically, her Snapchat post violated the "Negative Information Rule," which states:

“There will be no toleration of any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the internet.”

The court notes that students' Constitutional rights do not end when they enter the school. The district argues students' rights "end" if students waive these rights, as it claims B.L. did when she agreed to not post "negative information" about the cheer program on the internet. The court points out this waiver could hardly be considered voluntary.

[N]either B.L. nor her mother had bargaining equality with the coaches or the school; the Cheerleading Rules were not subject to negotiation; and B.L. and her mother were not represented by counsel when they agreed B.L. would abide by the Rules. Additionally, conditioning extracurricular participation on a waiver of a constitutional right is coercive.

After deciding B.L. retained her First Amendment rights despite the wording of the cheer team agreement, the court moves on to dismantle the district's other defense: that B.L. had no Constitutional right to engage in extracurricular activities. As the court points out, this determination is irrelevant to determining whether or not B.L.'s rights were violated by her suspension from the cheer team. The district wants the court to approach the question from the wrong side. The court declines the district's invitation to enter the argument through the back door.

I agree with B.L. What the District’s argument does is put the constitutional cart before the horse. [...] The issue with this reasoning, which assumes all student athlete speech is ipso facto less protected, see Lowery v. Euverard, 497 F.3d 584, 605 (6th Cir. 2007) (Gilman, J., concurring in the judgment) is two-fold: it muddies the First Amendment analysis, and conflates it with Due Process analysis.

[...]

The right a public school infringes by punishing a student for protected speech is not the right to education or to play a sport, it is the right to freedom of speech.

In the end, the court finds the school's punishment of B.L. was unconstitutional. While it recognizes students engaging in extracurricular activities may be subject to more rules governing their behavior, the rules cannot infringe on their protected rights. Speech that occurs outside of the school walls is not completely out of reach of the school's disciplinary policies, but the school needs to show the severely disruptive effect this extracurricular speech caused. In this case, all the district could point to were claims by cheer coaches the f-bombs had the potential to be disruptive.

If teens dropping F-bombs on or off school property were enough to disrupt schools, approximately 0% of the nation's high schools would be operational for more than a few hours at a time, much less the entire school year. "Fuck cheer" is protected expression. The fact that the school doesn't like hearing its activities criticized doesn't budge the free speech needle.

Filed Under: first amendment, free speech


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  1. identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Apr 2019 @ 2:12pm

    Nice to have something to fucking cheer about!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 2:53pm

    Bong hits for Jesus?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:09pm

    the Cheerleading Rules were not subject to negotiation; and B.L. and her mother were not represented by counsel when they agreed B.L. would abide by the Rules.

    Hmm... my phone contract is not subject to negotiation (believe me, I've tried, and they don't like you messing with their "contract"). I was not represented by counsel when I agreed to their terms.

    Same goes for any EULA.

    So does that mean that these agreements have as much weight?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:12pm

    Re:

    That 5-4 ruling hinged on "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" being trivially interpreted as promoting illegal drug use. There's no promotion of illegal activity here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Vidiot (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:16pm

    "There will be no toleration..."

    That's right. Not today, not in the future. There is no such word as "toleration".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Shufflepants (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:29pm

    Re:

    No, because Verizon is not a government entity. A school is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Glen, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, fuck!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:39pm

    Re:

    So both EULA and NDA are no longer legal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Re:

    So it would be legal for a private or religious school? Just not legal for a public school.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Rickicitus, 3 Apr 2019 @ 4:40pm

    Well, let's hope little potty-mouth is happy. After all, the internet is forever and prospective employers now screen for bad public behavior. Little potty-mouth's future employment opportunities may be limited to "You want fries with that?". Karma can be a bitch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 4:50pm

    Re: No thanks you already got the jelly

    "You want fries with that?”

    Hey bro it sounds like you say that phrase quite a bit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 5:43pm

    If saying the word “fuck” ever prevented anybody from getting a job in every other industry besides fast food, a metric fuckton of people would be unemployed right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 6:49pm

    Re: Re:

    Hmm, I don't know.
    How many of the cheerleading squad is under the age of consent?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 6:51pm

    Re: Re:

    All I get is a 404 page.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:14pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    There's no age of consent for fucking "things."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Gary (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:23pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    (1) an act or instance of tolerating, especially of what is not actually approved; forbearance:
    (2) to show toleration toward the protesters.
    permission by law or government of the exercise of religions other than an established religion; noninterference in matters of private faith and worship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Gary (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:25pm

    Re:

    "Little potty-mouth?" Why do you hate free speech, Rickitus?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:40pm

    Re: Re:

    Because he haven’t been able to wipe the smile off his face since the stroke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 8:12pm

    The coaches also claimed B.L. had violated the cheer team rules with her "fuck cheer" post. Specifically, her Snapchat post violated the "Negative Information Rule," which states:
    “There will be no toleration of any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the internet.”

    I'm curious, which part of "fuck cheer" is negative information (i.e., facts) about this school's cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches? Are the coaches saying that there is actual fucking going on in there? Because it looks to me like that's what they're saying :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 8:17pm

    Re:

    Well clearly their grammar and vocabulary choices are downright fucking atrocious since they defined it as 'negative information' instead of disparagement. Saying fuck something isn't information -it is an opinion. Negative information is either a literal impossibility (how do you store a terrabyte on a floppy disk? Add a lot of negative information first!) or inconvenient facts like say they came in last in a competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    As long as they aren't getting public money, they are free to be as crazy as they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 4:28am

    Film at 11...

    ...Petulant Teenager doesn't get her way, throws hissycow, makes Daddy fund court case...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 5:02am

    Re: Film at 11...

    Yes, but she's a teen. Expect petulance. She has a constitutional right to express that petulance, however rudely whether she's a teen or not.

    If her right to drop f-bombs on Snapchat isn't protected, neither is yours to authoritarian snark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 5:07am

    Re: Film at 11...

    Stupid troll says something stupid on the interwebs cause said troll doesn't get the concept of free speech.

    Now there is your film at 11

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 5:58am

    Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Where did I say it was not her right?

    She won her court case. But... was she elevated to Varsity? Will her inability to follow simple rules aid or harm her on job applications? Will her willingness to literally make a Federal Case out of not getting her way help or hurt her future?

    The school's rule was poorly written, and that particular line of attack in court was foolish.

    She was simply not good enough to make Varsity - and as a cheerleader, no less.

    So she threw a hissycow about it, possibly unknowing of the rule regarding "negatives" (it's probably like a EULA).

    When she was suspended from the squad for doing so, someone decided to bring it to court, and I've got to believe that it was for the purpose of making money off a lawsuit.

    Hey, maybe they'll lift the suspension and give her a Varsity standing. And put her right out front where her competence can shine...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So it would be legal for a private or religious school? Just not legal for a public school.

    The 1st Amendment doesn't apply at private schools in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Ah yes your concern is for her future. Clearly not because you are mortally offended that someone would dare to stand up to a petty authority in the wrong. That she a student goes against faculties means she is bad!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Will her inability to follow simple rules aid or harm her on job applications?

    More like, "Will her inability to follow simple but illegal rules..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Offended? Not at all. Annoyed that we just spent millions in court costs on a case that involved a teenager's petulance? Yup, I am.

    There's an amount of decorum required for social interactions. Teenagers aren't exempt from such, but we've always made some exceptions for them, as petulance, snottiess, and rudeness is expected from the immortal, indestructible, omniscient beings that teens feel themselves to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Thad (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 8:35am

    Re: Re: Re:

    ...has responding to a clearly-figurative use of the word "fuck" as if it were literal ever been funny or clever?

    The meaning of "fuck" in this context is entirely clear, even to a moron in a hurry. Don't be tedious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:00am

    Re:

    Well then perhaps prospective employers shouldn't be allowed to decide whether to hire someone based on the legal activities they partake in on their off-duty, personal, private time.

    As someone else said, if such things were based on whether or not someone said a bad word at any time in the past, everything would shut down pretty quick due to mass firings of the entire workforce.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Annoyed that we just spent millions in court costs on a case that involved a teenager's petulance?

    That damn pesky 1st amendment, if we could just get rid of it, we could stand to save a metric shit ton of money in the courts!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    She broke the rules she agreed to in order to be part of that team.

    If part of your hiring contract says you'll be fired if you call the boss "Flibbertigibbet" publicly, do you have 1st Amendment grounds to stand on if you're fired for doing so?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    She broke the rules she agreed to in order to be part of that team.

    If part of your hiring contract says you'll be fired if you call the boss "Flibbertigibbet" publicly, do you have 1st Amendment grounds to stand on if you're fired for doing so?

    How can you not see the plainly obvious fact that this is a public gov't school, which has to follow the damn constitution, such that rules which deny one's right to free speech are not valid rules.

    Now, a contract with a private business is a completely different arena in the realm of 1st amendment protections.

    Do you not see the difference?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    How can you not see the difference between following a rules list for a team (or behavior in a classroom, for that matter) and a subjugation of a person's Constitutional Rights?

    If you agree to do (or not do) something, and then do the opposite, who is in the wrong?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    ...such that rules which deny one's right to free speech are not valid rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 9:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    Annoyed that we just spent millions in court costs on a case that involved a teenager's petulance?

    You talk a lot about the teen being petulant, but let's talk about the school. The only reason, after all, that there were "millions in court costs" is that the school, faced with the fact that they violated clearly established rights of their student, put their fingers in their ears saying "nah, nah, nah I can't hear you" and proceeded to throw away said millions fighting it out in court. If we're talking about petulance, spending millions fighting a case that was lost before it even started has to win some kind of award. Someone who, say, had some decorum, would admit they were wrong and settle long before they saw a courtroom because people with decorum don't deliberately waste millions in tax dollars defending their blatant constitutional violations in an attempt to preserve their authoritarian power fantasies.

    There's an amount of basic respect for the social contract required for social interactions. Schools aren't exempt from such, and trying to make an exception for them because they hid their petulance, snottiness, and power trips behind a veneer of decorum is, frankly, disgusting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re:

    Well then perhaps prospective employers shouldn't be allowed to decide whether to hire someone based on the legal activities they partake in on their off-duty, personal, private time.

    Don't be ridiculous. No business should have to hire (or retain) an employee who is a spokesman for the Ku Klux Klan and marches in sheet on weekends.

    Being a Klan member and engaging in 'hate speech' is a legal activity-- it violates no law-- but having such an employee can destroy a business, which is why businesses are allowed to fire (or not hire) such employees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Badge bunny bingo

    Right it’s not like bamboo is a known holster for anyone with a badge and and an authority complex.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    “And put her right out front where her competence can shin”

    Funny line bro. Mostly because the amount of effort you put into polishing this turd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Who’s being petulant now?

    The school for violating the students constitutional rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Film at 11...

    How can you not see the difference between following a rules list for a team

    Wasn't the point of the entire article about how a federal court ruled that the rules were unconstitutional and that her speech is still protected speech?

    Oh wait, it's right there in the title of the article!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You make a fair point.

    At the same time, denying a woman a job because as a teenager she expressed her dislike for certain things by saying "fuck cheer" seems like taking that to an unwanted and unintended extreme.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. icon
    stderric (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 3:51pm

    Re:

    Statement that has not, and never will be, uttered seriously:

    "I didn't get the job! They found out I used the word 'fuck' when I was a teenager!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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