Middle School Boobies

Once again, America’s finest school administrators have decided to attack student speech by banning the wearing of pink bracelets to promote breast cancer awareness that are emblazoned with the phrase “I [heart] Boobies.” And once again, these people seem to be concentrated in the great state of Pennsylvania.

Boobies Bracelet
In the first case to challenge such a ban, two girls attending an Easton, Pennsylvania, middle school contend they have the right to engage in silent speech about breast cancer in a way that will be relevant and engaging to their peers.

According to the Legal Intelligencer:

the bracelets are distributed by the Keep A Breast Foundation, a six-year-old nonprofit organization whose mission is to help eradicate breast cancer by educating young people on methods of prevention and early detection.

The lawsuit says the campaign, which has spread nationally, “is designed to reach young people in a language that they will find more fun and less threatening than other discussions about breast cancer.”

When the Easton plaintiffs defied the ban and refused to remove the bracelets, they were hit with in-school suspensions.

School district officials at first defended the ban by contending that the bracelets were causing a disruption at school. But in court papers, the district’s lawyers have now made clear that they intend to argue that the ban was proper because the message printed on the bracelets is “lewd.”

The school district claims it was acting within the purview of its authority in banning lewd language. The ban was proper “due to the inherent vulgarity of the phrase itself in the public middle school context.” The message printed on the bracelets “has an inherent double entendre of both caring for women and sexual attraction to breasts, particularly due to its slang expression.” As a result the message “is vulgar and breeds further vulgarity.”

According to the school district’s brief, the reactions of other students to the bracelets included “sexual comments made by middle school boys to middle school girls pertaining to the girls’ breasts.”

The girls claim that speech is lewd or vulgar only if it “glorifies sexuality, contains elaborate sexual metaphor, or includes expletives.” The terms “boob” and “boobies” are not vulgar or profane citing dictionary references that label the terms as slang, but not as profane or indecent.

Both terms regularly appear in major mainstream media outlets, the plaintiffs note, including “The New York Times which has used the term “boob” to refer to breasts 30 times since January 2007.”

The girls also argue that context is important because the bracelets also include the phrase “keep a breast,” and therefore convey “a serious message of survival, not a sexual one.”

Finally, if male students respond by harassing those who wore the bracelets the school should “punish those few male students for their inappropriate behavior, not punish the female students exercising their constitutional right of expression about a serious health subject.”

Yesterday, federal district judge Mary A. McLaughlin heard arguments concerning a temporary injunction of the school district’s ban.

Thirteen year old plaintiff Brianna Hawk testified in favor of the injunction stating simply, “I think the school took the meaning of the bracelets out of context.”

McLaughlin told the lawyers at the close of yesterday’s hearing to file briefs by the end of the year that include proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. She said the case will be scheduled for a final oral argument in February.

Poor William Penn. The original “Famework of Government” for his commonwealth was a constitution which would accommodate dissent and new ideas and also allow meaningful societal change without resorting to violent uprisings or revolution. Perhaps today’s Pennsylvania citizenry will heed Penn’s call and make their state one of tolerance and understanding.

While banning boobie bracelets might not result in a riot, silencing middle school students on matters of health and education should inspire a re-dedication to the importance of “dissent” and “new ideas” as cornerstones of a democratic public education system.

ACLU webpage on the lawsuit, including a copy of the complaint.
The Keep a Breast Foundation
The Legal Intelligencer: Students Star in Challenge to Ban on Breast Cancer Wristbands

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