A federal appeals court has ruled against a Texas teenager who was kicked off of her high school cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer against a player who she says raped her.
The 18-year-old woman, identified by her initials H.S., said a star athlete named Rakheem Bolton raped her at a party in October 2008 after others threw her into a room. Bolton and a teammate were arrested and charged with sexual assault.
However, while the case was proceeding, Bolton played in a basketball game for Silsbee High School in February 2009. When he got to the foul line, instead of cheering his name, H.S. stepped back, folded her arms, and sat down.
She said she had done the same thing at an earlier game without incident. This time, she said, she was called into a hallway at halftime, and the district superintendent, his assistant and the school principal told her she had to cheer for Bolton or go home. She chose to go home.
Her lawsuit accused school officials of discrimination by punishing H.S. and not the players. But the central allegation was that the school had violated her free speech rights -- her right to refuse to cheer.
"I didn't want to have to say his name, and I didn't want to cheer for him," H.S. said. "I didn't want to encourage anything he was doing."
But the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't agree, ruling against her. "In her capacity as cheerleader, H.S. served as a mouthpiece through which (the district) could disseminate speech - namely, support for its athletic teams," the three-judge panel said in a Sept. 16 ruling.
The district "had no duty to promote H.S.'s message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer, as she saw fit," the court said. "Moreover, this act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, H.S. was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering."
To add insult to injury, the Court ruled that the family must pay the school's legal fees, on the grounds that the suit was far-fetched and frivolous. The family is appealing the entire ruling.
In terms of the case, Bolton has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge -- a plea H.S. accepted because she was told a trial would not take place for at least a year.
"What I want out of the whole thing is for somebody to admit they were wrong," H.S. said. "All I wanted was for somebody to come forward and say, 'Yes, it happened.'"