Earlier this week, the Supreme Court denied review of the case of the Texas cheerleader who was suspended from her team for refusing to cheer for her rapist without comment. This means that a lower court ruling, which said that a cheerleader acts as a mouthpiece for the school and can thus be dismissed for refusing to speak, will stand. It also means that the cheerleader’s family now owes the district $45,000 for the costs of “defending a frivolous suit,” as ordered by the New Orleans appeals court.
This story illustrates an appalling violation of a student’s right to speak out against an insensitive and traumatic order from school officials. The girl, who is known just as “H.S.,” says that she was 16 when she was raped at a party by Rakheem Bolton, a star of her high school football team. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and received a suspended sentence. The following winter, Bolton was playing in a basketball game when he went up to the foul line to shoot a free throw.
H.S.’s lawyer says that the girls were instructed to chant, “2, 4, 6, 8, 10, come on, Rakheem, put it in.” H.S., who had cheered for the rest of the game, folded her arms and remained silent.
This is an understandable protest against the fact that Bolton was allowed to return to school, and H.S. had every right to refuse to cheer for a man who had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her. School officials, however, told her that she had to cheer for Bolton or be dismissed from the team. She continued to refuse, was dismissed, and sued school officials and the district, saying that they had punished her for exercising her right of free expression.
An appeals court ruled that because cheerleaders were a “mouthpiece” for the school, and that H.S.’s protest was a “disruption to the educational process.” But I have to wonder what would have happened if H.S. had claimed that cheering for a player was against her religion. And what on earth is a “disruption,” if not an action by school officials that threatens the health and well-being of a student?
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case is a devastating rejection of students’ rights to speak out against school officials, and a disturbing affirmation of a culture that punishes rape victims instead of perpetrators.
Photo from Kevin Coles via Flickr.