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SCOTUS: School violated student's freedom of speech by punishing her over Snapchat rant

Supreme Court building
Posted at 10:35 AM, Jun 23, 2021

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania school district violated a student's free speech after she used explicit language regarding the school's cheerleading squad on Snapchat.

In an 8 to 1 decision, the court ruled in favor of the cheerleader, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing the majority opinion and Justice Clarence Thomas writing the lone dissent.

The case involved a high school cheerleader who did not make the varsity squad at her school in the Mahanoy Area School District in eastern Pennsylvania. Frustrated, she posted a rant — which included profanities — about the team to Snapchat while off-campus and after school hours.

When coaches found out about the student's message, they suspended her from competing with the junior varsity team.

In the ruling, the court held that in this instance, the school was not permitted to act upon the student's off-campus speech.

In his opinion, Breyer noted that there are some instances in which schools could regulate a student's off-campus speech.

"These include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students; the failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; and breaches of school security devices, including material maintained within school computers," Breyer wrote.

However, the court held that the student's speech did not reach that threshold and that the school violated her First Amendment rights by punishing her.

"It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary," Breyer wrote in closing his opinion.