Supreme Court Sides with Teen Who Sent Vulgar Snapchat Off-Campus and Got Suspended from Cheerleading Squad
"Schools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' " Justice Stephen Breyer wrote
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against a Pennsylvania high school who disciplined a student after she sent a vulgar Snapchat message to other students while she was off campus.
Brandi Levy, then 14, was reportedly frustrated over not making the school's varsity cheerleading team in 2017 and sent a snap to 250 students showing her and another friend holding their middle fingers up.
The snap, which Levy took on a Saturday at a local convenience store, included a caption that read: "F--- school f--- softball f--- cheer f--- everything."
Another student took a screenshot of the photo and showed it to their mother, who was a coach at Mahanoy Area High School. The New York Times reported that the school then banned Levy from her junior varsity cheerleading squad for a year - a decision the Supreme Court overwhelmingly ruled against on Wednesday.
The justices agreed eight-to-one in favor of Levy, saying the school was overstepping its authority to monitor free speech.
"Schools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' " Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court's majority.
"Her posts appeared outside of school hours from a location outside the school," Breyer wrote. "She did not identify the school in her posts or target any member of the school community with vulgar or abusive language."
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Levy in the case, celebrated the ruling on Wednesday.
"Protecting young people's free speech rights when they are outside of school is vital, and this is a huge victory for the free speech rights of millions of students who attend our nation's public schools," David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
Levy, who is now 18 and just finished her freshman year of college, told Business Insider in April that she felt "isolated" after the school's coaches suspended her from the team.
"I couldn't say anything without getting yelled at or getting in trouble for doing it," she said. "I felt like I couldn't express how I felt without getting in trouble."
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The Times reports that it's been more than 50 years since a high school student won a Supreme Court case surrounding the issue of free speech.
Perhaps the most notable came in 1969 when the court sided with a group of high schoolers in Des Moines, Iowa, who were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.
In his opinion this week, Justice Breyer noted that the impetus of Levy's case may seem more frivolous, to some, but was no less important.
"It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.'s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein," Breyer wrote. "But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary."