You may think this is an a-bomb but it isn’t. It’s just a teenager reacting to a perceived slight.
Old saw: When a dog bites a man, that’s not news. When a man bites a dog, that’s news.
New Saw: When a 14-year-old girl goes on a tirade and is punished, that’s not news. When the US Supreme Court says she shouldn’t have been, that’s news.
This is about Brandi Levy, a teen from a backwater in North Central Pennsylvania. As a high school freshman, she didn’t make it to the varsity cheerleader squad at her high school. So she did what any normal red-blooded American teen would do in such a case.
She went to an internet cafe. She sat down at a desk and signed on to one of her social media accounts and let loose what has been reported as a vulgar attack shaped much like a mushroom cloud.
The school noticed. It reacted. It booted her from the junior varsity squad. She and her parents took the school to court. The case made its way up through the appeals process. It landed on the request-for-ruling inbox at the US Supreme Court.
Surprisingly, the court said it would consider the case. Even more surprisingly, it did. Then it ruled for Brandi and against the school. The ruling was 8-1. This was the first freedom-of-speech case won by a high school student in 50 years.
The ruling puts limits on what a school district can demand of a student off campus and during non-school hours. But it didn’t eliminate everything.
The court vote was 8-to-one with Clarence Thomas dissenting. Thomas generally votes ultra conservative and anti-government except in cases when the government seems useful to him … which in this case, it did.
The court has maintained first amendment free speech rights for students as long as what they do doesn’t disrupt the ever-so-smooth functioning that school districts like to pretend is their hallmark. Ms. Levy’s Snap Chat comments were posted in 2017.
She said in an interview she was surprised the court took the case. So were the usual clutch of court-watchers.
Her post was riddled with the F word and showed a picture of her and a friend raising their middle fingers.
In his majority opinion, Justice Stephan Breyer wrote that schools have an interest in protecting a student’s right to express unpopular opinions, especially when it’s done off campus.
We have no data supporting that Ms. Levy’s position was unpopular. But even in ruling for her, the justices indicated it was unpopular with them, despite their votes.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WR 2021