Court Reverses Boobies Bracelets Ban
A federal court in Pennsylvania ruled today that school-imposed bans of The Keep A Breast Foundation’s “I ♥ Boobies” bracelets are unconstitutional and violate students’ First Amendment rights. Two middle school students, with ties to breast cancer victims and survivors, were plaintiffs in the free expression case after being banned by the Easton Area School District from wearing the bracelets.
In the official ruling, Judge Mary McLaughlin stated, “The bracelets are intended to be — and they can reasonably be — viewed as speech designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to reduce stigma associated with openly discussing breast health. The words [I Heart Boobies] were chosen to enhance the effectiveness of the communication to the target audience.” For all of these reasons, the court concluded, “It would have been unreasonable for these school officials to conclude that these breast cancer awareness bracelets are lewd or vulgar under the Fraser standard.”
The judge found that school officials had improperly labeled the word “boobies” as lewd. “These bracelets cannot reasonably be considered lewd or vulgar,” McLaughlin wrote in her 41-page opinion.
The ban also cannot be justified as a means to prevent “disruptions,” McLaughlin found, because there were no incidents prior to the ban and only two minor incidents after.
“Such isolated incidents are well within a school’s ability to maintain discipline and order and they did not cause a disruption to the school’s learning environment,” McLaughlin wrote.
Focusing first on the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, Judge McLaughlin said her task was to decide “whether the speech at issue is lewd, vulgar, or otherwise offends for the same reason that obscenity offends.”
The school district argued that the word “boobies” is vulgar and that the phrase on the bracelets is vulgar in context because it can be viewed as a double entendre.
McLaughlin disagreed, finding that the word alone cannot be deemed vulgar because the Oxford English Dictionary includes numerous definitions, including “a dull, heavy, stupid fellow,” “a clown” or “a nincompoop.” It may also refer to “the last boy in a school class, the dunce,” McLaughlin noted, and while “boob” is defined as a slang word for breasts, it may also be “a foolish mistake or blunder.”
On the bracelets, McLaughlin found, the phrase was “always accompanied by the foundation’s name ‘Keep A Breast.'” “If the phrase ‘I [Heart] Boobies!’ appeared in isolation and not within the context of a legitimate, national breast cancer awareness campaign, the school district would have a much stronger argument that the bracelets fall within Fraser. This is not the case here,” McLaughlin wrote.
The Keep A Breast Foundation estimates that approximately 7 million “I Love Boobies” bracelets have been sold across the country. They are designed to heighten awareness of breast cancer and facilitate open conversations about health and coping. The money raised goes towards Keep A Breast’s prevention, education and support programs, which educate youth on how to identify specific threats and warning signs to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
Brianna Hawk, one of the students represented in the case stated, “I’m happy that the court has recognized the positive message that The Keep A Breast Foundation is trying to get to the young people. Since wearing the bracelet, I learned of many more people — including teachers and friends at school — who have lost family members to breast cancer, because wearing the bracelets leads to conversations about the disease.”