Texas Cheerleader Who Refused to Cheer Rapist Loses in Court
A Texas high school student who was kicked off her high school’s cheerleading squad after refusing to cheer for her rapist had her lawsuit dismissed as frivolous and was ordered to pay $45,000 in legal fees. The 5th Circuit upheld the ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.
Think Progress (“Supreme Court Denies Justice To Texas Cheerleader Who Refused To Cheer Her Alleged Rapist“):
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to review the case of a recent Texas high school student who was kicked off her school’s cheerleading squad after she refused to chant the name of a basketball player who had allegedly raped her. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, ruled last November that the victim — who is known only as H.S. — had no right to refuse to applaud her attacker because as a cheerleader in uniform, she was an agent of the school. To add insult to injury, the Fifth Circuit dismissed her case as “frivolous” and sanctioned the girl, forcing her family to pay the school district’s $45,000 legal fees.
According to court documents, H.S. was 16 when she was raped at a house party by one of her school’s star athletes, Rakheem Bolton. Bolton was arrested, but by pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault, he received a reduced sentence of probation and community service. Bolton was allowed to return to school and resume his place on the basketball team. Four months later, H.S. was cheering with her squad at a game when Bolton lined up to take a free throw. The squad wanted to do a cheer that included his name, but H.S. refused, choosing instead to stand silently with her arms folded.
“I didn’t want to have to say his name and I didn’t want to cheer for him,” she latertold reporters. “I just didn’t want to encourage anything he was doing.”
Several school officials of the “sports obsessed” small town took issue with H.S.’s silence, and ordered her to cheer for Bolton. When H.S. refused again, she was expelled from the cheerleading squad. Her family decided to sue school officials and the district. Their lawyer argued that H.S.’s right to exercise free expression had been violated and that students shouldn’t be punished for not complying with “insensitive and unreasonable directions.”
Leading legal scholars have pointed out that this case is about more than justice for one purported rape victim — it’s a civil rights issue that goes to the heart of students’ right of free speech under the First Amendment. Though it might seem obvious to most people that H.S. had every right to sit out that cheer, the lower court insisted that as a cheerleader, she was speaking for the school and as such had no right to stay silent when coaches told her to applaud her alleged rapist.
TP’s account of the facts is accurate; their timeline, however, is somewhat misleading in that it implies that Bolton had already pled guilty to assault at the time his accuser was suspended from the cheerleading squad.
The first link goes back to a story in The Independent and a quick Google search reveals dozens of stories in local and national news sources over the last two years. KDFM reports that Bolton plead guilty to assault last September and quotes the prosecutor saying, “The State feels it’s a fair resolution for the victim, and the victim agrees. I think it’s a fair resolution also. The State is happy he has finally come forward and admitted his guilt.” Bolton was sentenced to “2 years probation, a $2,500 fine, 150 hours of community service, and he must attend an anger management course.”
Back in 2009, KDFM reports, the NAACP protested the indictments of Bolton and cohort. Apparently, a previous grand jury had failed to indict.
The Ms. Blog, by contrast, has three postings on the matter, treating the allegations of Hillaire Soignet, the former cheerleader as undisputed fact.
Regardless, this is a classic example of hard cases making bad law. The only pertinent facts, legally, are these:
- Bolton was a player for the high school basketball team
- The high school cheerleading team is expected to cheer for the basketball team and its players
- Soignet refused multiple times to cheer for Bolton and was dismissed from the team
Not legally relevant but noteworthy: Bolton had been convicted of no crime at the time of the incident; the misdemeanor assault plea came later.
The 5th Circuit ruled, correctly, that cheerleaders are agents of the school, serving as a “mouthpiece” for it. The notion that individual cheerleaders on the squad have free speech rights while on the floor performing is absurd. Her “sitting out” a cheer every time Bolton’s name is called or is shooting free throws obviously draws negative attention to Bolton–which would appear to be directly sanctioned by the school while she’s in its uniform. Naturally, the school had to dismiss her from the team.
Soignet was in an untenable position and I truly feel for her. Having been, at bare minimum, assaulted, she had a desire to get back to some semblance of her former life. Cheerleading was, presumably, a vehicle for that. And the fact that her alleged rapist was not only free and attending her school but a star athlete on the football and basketball team had to be a constant reminder of the worst night of her life.
But the school had no choice. They couldn’t expel Bolton or prevent him from playing sports. Again, he was not convicted of any crimes. Even after the assault plea, he apparently expects to go on to play college football.
This left Soignet with an awful choice: punish herself for being a crime victim by forgoing a key part of the high school experience or suffer the additional indignity of cheering a man she believes raped her. She tried to do both but it wasn’t an option.
As to having to pay the school’s legal bills, that seems harsh. Then again, the suit actually is rather frivolous. There’s no “right” to participate in cheerleading. Lots of girls are left off the squad each year, usually for no greater infraction than not being popular enough. And, surely, cheering for athletes is a core duty of a cheerleader.
A previous version stated that “TP’s account of the facts is accurate” without pointing out their misleading timeline.