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Supreme Court Protects First Amendment Rights for Students’ Off-Campus Speech

On June 24, 2021 by Schnader in Litigation

Theresa E. Loscalzo and Arleigh P. Helfer III published a client alert, “Supreme Court Protects First Amendment Rights for Students’ Off-Campus Speech.”

In Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., No. 20–255, the United States Supreme Court, in one of the most significant student free speech cases in 50 years, affirmed the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, confirming the importance of the free speech rights of students.

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Seth F. Kreimer are co-counsel of record in this case.

The Court, in an opinion delivered by Justice Breyer, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett joined, held that school authorities must respect students’ rights to express themselves outside of school, including their right to express dissenting or unpopular views. The Court also recognized that schools do not have the same authority to punish students for speech outside of school as they do in school contexts, and confirmed that parents, not schools, exercise primary responsibility for their children’s speech. The Court explicitly held that the school violated B. L.’s First Amendment rights when it suspended her from the junior varsity cheerleading squad (Slip Op. 8–11), and concluded that B.L.’s Snapchat posts are entitled to First Amendment protection. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.

Click here to read the full client alert.