fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

Go, Team, Go - Not?

I stumbled across an interesting story a few days. Esssentially a high school cheerleader (identified as HS) was kicked off her squad after refusing to cheer for a fellow student athleet, Rakheem Bolton. She had good reason not to cheer: Rakheem had raped her at a party and plead to a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, to get out of felony rape charges. I suppose we should say allegedly raped; there's always a sliver of doubt in my mind when someone pleads to a less serious charge, but given that this guy is a big-time high school athlete (which is a huge deal in Texas), I suspect he would have been let off entirely if there wasn't some pretty damning evidence.

Anyway, HS and her family sued the school district over all this, saying that HS had a right to free speech not to cheer for her rapist. They lost. The Supreme Court just ruled not only that she had no right to be back on the squad, but also that her family had to pay the school district's legal fees. (Read a newspaper account or ThinkProgress's analysis.

If you asked me whether Rakheem got off light - scandalously light - I'd say yes. Or, do I think HS had every reason not to cheer for her rapist? Again, yes, absolutely. Or if you asked whether the court went too far in calling this case frivolous? I'm not qualified to talk about the legal issues, but morally? Once more, yes. But this case brings up other issues, too. See, HS claimed she shouldn't be kicked off the team because she had the right to free speech. The school claimed she was an agent of the school and she didn't have a right to use the school's bully-pulpit to draw attention to how severely she felt like she'd been wronged. Personally, I think both of them are probably wrong. It's not a question of free speech or agency, but of whether HS can (or will) still fulfill the function of a cheerleader.

Think about it this way. Say HS was violently raped and she could not physically perform the gymnastics needed to cheer. Would we think the squad was out of line in telling her that if she can't do the moves she can't be part of the squad? We might think it was pity-worthy, and we might rightfully be disgusted at Rakheem for taking this opportunity away from HS. But I think people could reasonably say that HS shouldn't be part of the squad. I would hope that the squad would still make room for HS where they could (perhaps as a coach of some kind), but certainly she's not still entitled to shake her pom-poms in front of the whole school. In the real case, the difference is that HS was psychologically and emotionally injured by her mistake and that she chose not to cheer for her attacker rather than having that choice dictated by her physical injuries.

I know this is an unpopular position. When someone is raped we naturally want to support her against the person who so violated her. But there's a bigger issue at stake here. Remember two not-so-ancient news cases. Back in 2008 I heard of Lillian Ladele, a government worker in the U.K. who refused to register same-sex marriages as U.K. law required. Closer to home, later that same year there was the controversy over the morning-after pill and the conscience clause.

In both cases we have private citizens that are employed in a particular capacity, in some cases by the government and sometimes by private industries but always with the expectation that they perform a certain service. For some reason they can no longer fulfill that function. And in both cases, I thought the people involved had crossed a line. Lillian Ladele has every right not to register gay marriages - but not if she wants to be a government registrar. And in the U.S., pharmacists who don't want to dispense the morning-after pill have every right to refuse - so long as they don't put themselves out there as a dispenser of legal medicines. I mean, we wouldn't think a pharmacist had any right not to distribute condoms to an unmarried person, precisely because the law no longer limits contraception to the married. Principled people shouldn't be compelled to act in a way they disapprove of, but the other choice has to be to quit.

As much as it goads me, the same principle applies here. HS has every right to refuse to cheer. She can tell all her friends what an ass Rakheem is. She can paper her cafeteria with flyers about him. What she cannot do is refuse to carry out the function of a cheerleader. A cheerleader's role is to lead the crowd in cheering for the team. Not for people she personally thinks deserve cheers. If HS can't do that, then she shouldn't be a cheerleader.

And yeah, it does goad me a bit. I really feel for HS. But I don't think I can let my personal emotions get ion the way here, because it opens up the gate to other people to claim similar things.

Tags: politics
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