Full federal appeals court hears arguments in ‘I (Heart) Boobies!’ bracelets case

A lawsuit involving a middle school’s ban on breast cancer awareness bracelets that bear the slogan “I (Heart) Boobies!” got its day in a federal appeals court in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

To the chagrin of officials at Easton Area Middle School, 15-year-old Brianna Hawk and 14-year-old Kayla Martinez defied a previously-imposed ban and wore the bracelets — distributed by the Keep A Breast Foundation — on school premises in 2010. The female students say they only wanted to show their support for breast cancer awareness.

School officials responded by suspending the students for a day and a half and prohibiting their attendance at a school dance.

The school district describes the case as a dress-code issue and a matter of too much double entendre, explains The Express-Times of Easton. The students, through their attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union, call it an issue of constitutionally-protected free speech.

In April 2011, Judge Mary McLaughlin of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sided with the students, issuing a preliminary injunction against their punishment.

The school district appealed, leading to a hearing before the entire appellate court. Attorneys for the school district and the ACLU made their cases to 14 judges in two half-hour chunks.

Easton Area School District solicitor John Freund argued that the lower court’s injunction should be overturned because school officials are in the best position to know what is likely to cause disruptions.

The previously-instituted ban is a straightforward way to “encourage decorum in schools and preserve the civility of discussion in the classroom,” Freund said, according to The Express-Times.

Freund recited the story of a teacher who had to pause in class because there was too much distracting chuckling when she read a poem that included the word “breast.” He also noted that a male student who had heard about the bracelets professed to a female student, “I heart your boobies.”

Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney for the ACLU who represents the two bracelet-wearing teens, argued that the word “boobies” is harmless. “This is a word these girls use with their grandmothers,” she said, according to The Express-Times.

Roper also suggested that the bracelets promote a valid social purpose.