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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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U.S. Supreme Court hands victory to cheerleader in free speech case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday (June 23) ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania teenager who sued after a profane social media post got her banished from her high school’s cheerleading squad in a closely watched free speech case.

The justices, in a 8-1 ruling, decided that the punishment that Mahanoy Area School District officials doled out to the plaintiff, Brandi Levy, for her social media post made at a local convenience store in Mahanoy City on a weekend violated her free speech rights.

The case involved the free speech rights of America’s roughly 50 million public school students. Many schools and educators have argued that their ability to curb bullying, threats, cheating and harassment – all frequently occurring online – should not be limited to school grounds.

The American For Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney representing Levy told Reuters in April that the power the school district was asking the court to give it would have allowed them to censor anything that is considered controversial, unpopular, or critical of the school.

“This is the most important student speech case that the Supreme Court has decided in over 50 years,” ACLU Pennsylvania attorney Vic Walczak told Reuters.

But, in a win for educators, the justices also preserved public schools’ power to sometimes regulate speech that occurs off campus, declining to endorse a lower court decision that found that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech prohibited extending officials’ authority outside the school.

“I’m proud of sticking through it all the way to here,” Levy told Reuters in April. “It’s going to prove a point that schools shouldn’t be able to punish students for how they express their feelings.”

(Production: Mana Rabiee)

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