Press Release

ADL Pleased with Outcome in Student Free Speech Case

New York, NY, June 23, 2021 … ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) today welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision in Mahanoy v. B.L., an 8-1 ruling that a school violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment when they suspended a student from the cheerleading team for a vulgar social media post made off-campus and outside of school hours. 

“This is an important win for the free speech rights of all U.S. students,” said ADL Legal Affairs Chair Joe Berman. “It is noteworthy that the Court also recognized that public schools may have a special interest in regulating some particular types of off-campus student speech, including ‘serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals.’ This appropriately reflects the need to balance free speech protections against the ways in which social media can be used to inflict real harm on others.”

ADL joined 33 other organizations in an amicus brief in this case. The brief urged the Court to ensure that when it comes to off-campus speech, schools can regulate student bullying, harassment, or threats, but not all student speech. Contending that this balance is needed, the brief observed that students belonging to one or more historically marginalized groups — including girls and women, LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and students with disabilities — are especially vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and threats from their peers. These students are also disproportionately subjected to unwarranted school discipline for speech that school administrators deem “defiant” or “disrespectful.” 

“The Court’s ruling today will ensure that all students can be safe and access equal educational opportunities without victimization by other students, and also not face disparate discipline for their own speech, while reaffirming that public school students have First Amendment rights of free speech.” said Berman.