Neon-colored rubbery bracelets bearing the message "I (heart) boobies!" in bright, white lettering proliferate on the wrists of U.S. middle school students. The bracelets feature prominently in the Keep a Breast Foundation's campaign to raise breast cancer awareness. But concerns about suggestiveness in the bracelets' message prompted principals and school districts across the country to set rules against them, triggering opposition from free-speech advocates. One of many such disputes wound up in federal court.
On Aug. 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia upheld a lower court's decision in favor of two Easton, Pa., middle school students' right to wear the bracelets without fear of penalties. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the two students had sued their school district after they spent a day and a half in in-school suspension and were barred from attending their school's winter ball. The case raised constitutional questions about the balance between the allegedly lewd nature and level of distraction the bracelets presented vs. the students' right to free speech.
Correctly in this case, the trial and appellate courts acknowledged the confusing and slippery nature of limiting free speech in schools and cautiously sided with the bracelet wearers. There is not enough proof that the bracelets are sufficiently lewd or distracting to risk impinging on students' right to free speech.