A full U.S. appeals court ruled Monday that a Pennsylvania school district could not ban “I (heart) Boobies!” bracelets under the First Amendment.
“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.
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, two middle schoolers filed a free-speech lawsuit against the Easton Area School District in 2010 after being suspended for wearing the breast cancer awareness bracelets on the school’s Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
School officials said the “I (heart) Boobies!” slogan was lewd and distracted students. The school district also argued the bracelets violated the Title IX right to be free from sexual harassment.
In a 9-5 decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the bracelets were not plainly lewd and there was no evidence they were disruptive. There was also no evidence that allowing the bracelets would “breed an environment of pervasive and severe harassment.”
“[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.
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