I hope that all the people out there with their panties in a bunch over the Constitution being followed to the letter can explain to me why a high school cheerleader from Texas was kicked off the cheering squad for refusing to cheer on her rapist at a basketball game.
Silsbee High School’s H.S. was 16 when she went to a post-football game party in 2008. Three student athletes identified as Rakheem Bolton, Christian Rountree, and a third douchebag who remains nameless because he was a minor at the time allegedly sexually assaulted her during the festivities.
Unlike so many rape victims, H.S. had the courage to go to the authorities. She had the guts to go to court, where a “racially divided grand jury” didn’t feel that indictments were appropriate. A year later, however, Bolton and Rountree received grand jury indictments on felony sex assault charges.
Bolton ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor simple assault charge for the incident and was sentenced to jail time. While the jail sentence was suspended, Bolton was placed on two years’ probation, a $2500 fine, and 150 hours of …
… community service.
What this says to me, of course, is that there was at least some degree of truth to H.S.’s accusations (and I’ve made pretty clear my feelings on rape victims struggling with going to the police for help—this case proves why this is still such a huge problem). But not only did H.S. get smacked down by the legal system, she got metaphorically screwed by her own school … and, arguably, the United States Constitution.
H.S. said that school officials ordered her to cheer for Bolton, who also played on the basketball team, at a February 2009 game. H.S. cheered for the team, but refused to cheer for Bolton individually. She said that Richard Bain Jr., the superintendent of schools, and Gail Lokey, who was the principal at Silsbee High, ordered her to cheer for Bolton when the other cheerleaders cheered or go home. H.S. refused, left the game, and was subsequently dismissed from the squad by cheerleading coach Sissy McInnis.
In May 2009, H.S.’s parents — known in court papers as John and Jane Doe — sued District Attorney David Sheffield, Silsbee Independent School District, Superintendent Bain, Principal Lokey and McInnis. H.S.’s parents argued that Sheffield violated the First Amendment by retaliating against H.S. for filing sexual-assault charges by revealing details about the case to the public.
You know, perhaps because this is such a personal issue for me, I am furious by this. This poor girl is getting shafted because she had the courage to come forward … and I just think that, instead of being ostracized for quietly and respectfully taking a stand against a guy whose mere presence must have totally fucked with her mind, she gets kicked off the cheerleading squad.
Judge Thad Heartfield—who’s clearly missing something in the heart department—dismissed the lawsuit in 2009.
The newspaper reported that on On Sept. 16, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Heartfield’s ruling in the civil lawsuit. In Doe v. Silsbee Independent School District, the unanimous three-judge panel rejected H.S.’s First Amendment claims.
The 5th Circuit rejected the retaliation claim against the district attorney, writing that the there was “no showing that Sheffield’s alleged retaliatory acts related to H.S.’s accusations against Rountree and Bolton.”
Um … yes, the retaliated acts did. These guys had sexually assaulted her, for God’s sake, and quietly refusing to cheer specifically for them seems like something that the school administration should have freaking supported.
The panel spent more time with the failure-to-cheer claim, but still ruled against H.S. The panel wrote that “in her capacity as cheerleader, H.S. served as a mouthpiece through which (the school district) could disseminate speech — namely, support for its athletic teams.” According to the 5th Circuit, the school officials “had no duty to promote H.S.’s message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer, as she saw fit.” The panel also reasoned that her act of refusing to cheer substantially interfered “with the work of the school” because her job as a cheerleader was to cheer.
“I’m thinking seriously about petitioning for a rehearing en banc,” said Missouri City, Texas,-based attorney Laurence Wade Watts, who represents H.S. “There are some substantial constitutional issues in this case.”
“My client engaged in clear symbolic speech for a moment against a man who has now pleaded guilty to having assaulted her, in a setting choreographed by the school district, and yet that was not factually disruptive of the school program,” Watts said.
This seems so wrong to me on so many levels … I mean, is there a constitutional right for rapists to run amok? The way I see it, there is a constitutional right for H.S. to live her life without a constant reminder of what happened to her.
I applaud H.S. for getting on with her life, particularly with something like the cheerleading squad that was clearly important to her, and I think both the school and the justice system did her an unforgivable wrong here.
What are your thoughts?