The teenage cheerleader had been suspended after posting a Snapchat clip with expletives aimed at her school and cheer program.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school cheerleader who had been disciplined for creating a curse-filled Snapchat still off campus.
The case, says National Public Radio, relates to an F-bomb-filled Snapchat clip created by then-14-year-old Brandi Levy.
Levy—upset that she had not been prompted from her school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad to varsity—took to social media to showcase her indignation.
“I was really upset and frustrated at everything,” Levy told NPR.
So, in her frustration, Levy posted a picture of herself—along with several friends—displaying their middle fingers to the camera, alongside a message that said, “Fuck the school […] Fuck cheer […] Fuck everything.”
After school officials learned of the Snapchat photograph, Levy was suspended from the cheer team. However, her parents filed a lawsuit, saying the school had no right to punish their daughter for off-campus speech.
Writing on behalf of the 8-1 majority, Justice Stephen Breyer observed that—as trivial as the case may seem—its ramifications are anything but.
“It might be tempting to dismiss [the student’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.”
Breyer, says CNN, made it clear that the court believes that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression ‘at the school house gate.’”
“But,” Breyer added, “we have also made clear that courts must apply the First Amendment in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.”
However, Breyer did disagree with a lower court ruling which said that schools do not have the right to regulate any off-campus speech. Nevertheless, he did not set forth what he called “a broad, highly general First Amendment ruling stating what counts as ‘off-campus speech.’”
“The school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus,” Breyer wrote. “America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy.”
The lone dissenting justice—Clarence Thomas—offered support for the school, saying that students like Levy “who are active in extracurricular programs have a greater potential, by virtue of their participation, to harm those programs.”
“For example, a profanity-laced screed delivered on social media or at the mall has a much different effect on a football program when done by a regular student than when done by the captain of the football team,” Justice Thomas opined. “So, too, here.”