In an unusual move, the entire 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals elected to hear the Easton Area School District’s school appeal in February rather than leave it to a three-judge panel. The court rejected school district claims that the slogan, which is designed to promote breast cancer awareness among young people, is lewd. It also concluded that school officials didn’t prove the bracelets were disruptive.
“Because the bracelets here are not plainly lewd and because they comment on a social issue, they may not be categorically banned,” the court said in a 9-5 decision.
The case centers on two middle school girls who were suspended from their school in 2010 for refusing to remove their boobie bracelets. The teens testified that they merely hoped to promote awareness of the disease at their middle school. They filed suit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union when they were suspended for defying the ban on their school’s Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Now the girls say they feel vindicated by the court’s decision that says their free speech rights were violated.
From The Globe and Mail:
“It’s definitely exciting to know we did something important,” said Brianna Hawk, who was an eighth grader at the eastern Pennsylvania public school when she took action that would lead to Monday’s decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We finally made a point that the bracelet isn’t that bad,” said Kayla Martinez, who was a seventh grader at the time at Easton Area Middle School.
Of course wearing a bracelet isn’t that bad, and yet Easton is one of several school districts around the country to ban these bracelets, which are distributed by the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation, with the intent of raising awareness of breast cancer.
“[T]he School District in this case was not unreasonably concerned that permitting ‘I (heart) Boobies’ bracelets in this case might require it to permit other messages that were sexually oriented in nature. But schools cannot avoid teaching our citizens-in-training how to appropriately navigate the ‘marketplace of ideas.’
Just because letting in one idea might invite even more difficult judgment calls about other ideas cannot justify suppressing speech of genuine social value,” the majority concluded.
Aha! Some common sense at last. Of course some teens and preteens will make rude or vulgar comments about these bracelets. What is it they say about teenage boys? They think about sex every fifteen seconds on average?
Any teacher who’s been in the classroom for a while has had to deal with inappropriate comments, but in this case those comments would provide the perfect opportunity to teach that breast cancer is a serious issue. We can also mention that it’s not just about women: every year men die of breast cancer too. After all, these are topics that our kids are really interested in.
Most schools do have a dress code, which covers anything that interferes with the educational process. T-shirts carrying messages related to smoking, drugs and alcohol fall into this category, as does gang-related attire, and anything that is considered sexually suggestive.
The school where I currently teach requires the following: “Inappropriate dress includes any clothing, hairstyle, make-up, tattoos or an accessory that calls negative attention to the student. The only body piercing allowed is a small post or stud in the nose or pierced earrings. Clothing that is indecent or suggestive, or that endorses alcohol or drugs, is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
That all make sense to me, but bracelets?
There’s also a weird double standard at work here. Breasts are used to sell everything from cars to beer to movies, but drawing attention to them in a lighthearted manner designed to raise awareness about a very serious issue is suddenly unacceptable.
“If schools can categorically regulate terms like ‘boobies’ even when the message comments on a social or political issue, schools could eliminate all student speech touching on sex or merely having the potential to offend,” the majority wrote in their ruling. And that would be just plain wrong.
Photo Credit: Save the Boobies Facebook