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Cheerleader's middle finger to be debated at US Supreme Court

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When cheerleader Brandi Levy didn't make her high school's elite squad, the 14-year-old took to Snapchat with a photo of her middle finger -- a moment of frustration that she never dreamed would take her to the US Supreme Court. AFP

Cheerleader's middle finger to be debated at US Supreme Court

When cheerleader Brandi Levy didn't make her high school's elite squad, the 14-year-old took to Snapchat with a photo of her middle finger -- a moment of frustration that she never dreamed would take her to the US Supreme Court.

On Wednesday the top court in the country will review her school's decision to take her pom poms away for a year.

The case may appear frivolous, but it touches on some key issues in the United States such as freedom of expression for young Americans, and the right to fight back against online harassment.

Levy's case means the nine US Supreme Court justices will have to decide if public schools have the right to punish students for comments made outside their establishment.

Levy had posted her message on a Saturday in 2017, away from her high school in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

"I tried out for the varsity team for cheerleading and I didn't make it, so I was pretty upset," she told the ACLU, the powerful civil rights association which represents her in court.

Armed with her cell phone, she took a picture of herself and a friend with her middle finger in the air and added a series of expletives against school, cheerleading, softball, and "everything."

But her message reached her coaches, who banned her from the field of competition for a year.

Her parents took her to court under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, and won -- and again on appeal.

Local school officials asked the Supreme Court to intervene, citing a 1969 ruling that allowed students to wear black armbands in opposition to the Vietnam War, but specified that speech that disrupted school operations could be punished.

Schools "retain authority to regulate conduct that happens outside their property lines but creates substantial effects inside," Mahanoy officials argued in their submission, pointing out that cell phones and distance learning during the pandemic had made that boundary artificial.

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