The Supreme Court’s Next Big Free Speech Showdown

Reason – by Damon Root

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the U.S. Supreme Court forbade public school officials from punishing students for exercising their First Amendment rights on school grounds unless the speech at issue “would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline and in the operation of the school.” In the coming months, the Court will hear arguments in a new case that asks whether that rule should be interpreted to allow school officials to punish students for certain off-campus social media posts.

The case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. originated in 2017 when a then-high school freshman and junior varsity cheerleading team member took to the social media site Snapchat in order to complain about her failure to make the varsity cheerleading squad. The student—known by the initials B.L. in court filings because she is a minor—posted a picture of herself and one of her friends with their middle fingers raised. The post went up on a Saturday. Its accompanying text read “f-k school f-k softball f-k cheer f-k everything.”

That post soon came to the attention of a cheerleading coach, which led to B.L.’s suspension from the team. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the school may discipline her for such speech without running afoul of the First Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that the school was prohibited from dishing out such punishment for such constitutionally protected speech. “Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech—that is, speech that is outside school-owned, -operated, or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school’s imprimatur,” the appeals court held.

The Mahanoy Area School District wants SCOTUS to reverse that ruling. Social media and related new technology act “as a megaphone for off-campus speech, ensuring that it reverberates throughout the classroom and commands the school’s attention,” the school and its lawyers told the justices. But thanks to the 3rd Circuit, school officials have been left with no authority “to discipline students for off-campus speech, no matter how obvious it is that the speech is directed at the school and will significantly disrupt the school environment.”

B.L. and her lawyers counter that the case is a matter-and-shut application of the First Amendment. “In a weekend comment in an evanescent Snapchat message,” they told the justices, “B.L. swore in expressing her disappointment at not making the varsity team to her friends. The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition, and finds no support in this Court’s student speech cases.”

Oral arguments in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. have not yet been scheduled.


5 thoughts on “The Supreme Court’s Next Big Free Speech Showdown

  1. Nice to see the school hates the Bill of rights and is willing to spend 100’s of thousands of tax payer dollars to take this to the USSC.

  2. inalienable … ‘unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor’
    The supreme court IS our common law court. Since we sovereigns are the possessors of the Articles to the Bill of Rights any ‘showdown’ these black robed traitors present is just that, a show.

  3. Here we go folks. HR 127 anti-gun bill. $800.00 yearly gun/ammo license, they want to know about each gun you own, where it’s stored, and the same for your ammunition. HUGE fines and fed prison time for violations. DEATH TO THE NWO!

    I can’t believe this thing will make it through the house and senate but with the criminal communists running things who knows.

    1. No $800 yearly gun/ammo license.
      No knowing about each gun we own.
      No knowing where it is stored.
      No huge fines or fed prison.
      This is f-king war, just kill or be killed.

  4. So what’s next? the Supremes (with apologies to Diana Ross and the rest of the Supremes) will “try” a case where some fan at some football game cusses a fan of a rival football team and the rival fan complains to his or her school that sues the school of the cussing fan because someone posted a video of this on “social media”? Or, even better, a dog owner 1 sues another dog owner 2 because dog owner 2’s dog barked very loudly at dog owner 1’s dog and the two dog owners got into a shouting match that interrupted person 3’s nap so person 3’s buddy person 4 recorded the shouting match and uploaded to social media causing person 3 to take his or her case to the USSC against dogs owner 1 and 2…. Who knows? With all the frivolous cases before the Supremes maybe “president” Biden will have an excuse to pack the SC with social media loving porn watching minions just because…. Meanwhile, will “social media” allow a video about the Bill of Rights?

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