A while back, you might have heard a thing or two about the dispiriting story of a cheerleader in Texas who claimed she was raped by an athlete at the school, Rakheem Bolton. The girl did something most probably wouldn’t in remaining on the school’s cheerleading team, but did something anyone would in refusing to specifically cheer for her alleged rapist.
That refusal ended her run with the school’s cheerleading squad. Her family then sued the school district, saying that removing her from the team for refusal to cheer Bolton impeded her free speech. However, neither the initial suit nor an appeal were successful. The reasoning:
Upholding a federal judge’s dismissal of the suit, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Sept. 16 that a cheerleader serves as a “mouthpiece” for the school. The Silsbee district “had no duty to promote H.S.’ message,” the three-judge panel said, and her silence “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school.”
Well, as it turns out, the girl (who has not been named except for her initials, H.S.) and her family weren’t fans of those rulings, and they’re taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. Their attorney, Laurence Watts, disagrees with the appeals court that H.S.’ refusal to cheer Bolton “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school.” On common sense grounds, Watts’ position seems almost impossible to argue against. Legal grounds could be another matter.
There’s also this interesting tidbit, from the linked San Francisco Chronicle piece:
The high court ruled in 1969 that school officials could restrict student speech only if it disrupted the educational process. The court narrowed that ruling in 1988 when it allowed a high school principal to censor the student newspaper and said schools have no duty to promote student speech.
Based on the 1988 ruling, it’s hard to feel good about this appeal’s chances…which is too bad, since it’s hard to begrudge H.S. for not wanting to cheer Bolton, given what she accuses him of doing (he gave a guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge earlier this year).
If anything, it’s amazing H.S. stayed on the cheerleading team at all, and some will undoubtedly wonder why she did, if she knew cheering for Bolton would inevitably be part of the job description. Still, it seems the least she deserves is for her case to be fully heard…but it looks up in the air as to whether or not it truly will be.