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LawCall - Breast Cancer

This is a case out of Pennsylvania in which two middle school girls were attempting to show their support for breast cancer research after a family member and friend had died from the disease. Their middle school had a different idea.

The girls wore pink bracelets with the slogan, “I [heart] Boobies!” Many of the school’s students were wearing the bracelets in support of a campaign by the Keep a Breast Foundation designed to raise awareness of breast cancer.

By the end of October, the school had banned the wristbands because the bracelets violated the schools dress-code policy, and because the word “Boobies” was offensive.

On Breast Cancer Awareness day, many students and teachers wore their pink t-shirts, and the two girls wore their bracelets to school. This didn’t go well, and the girls were suspended after refusing to remove them. They were also forbidden from attending an upcoming school dance.

Enter the ACLU of Pennsylvania who asked a judge to issue a preliminary injunction to force the school to lift the ban on the girls. An assistant principal of the school argued that banning the bracelets “makes a statement that we as a school district have the right to make discretionary decisions on what types of things are appropriate and inappropriate for our schoolchildren.”

Did the school violate the students’ right to free speech?

In April 2011, the district court granted the preliminary injunction, which meant that the girls could wear the bracelets to school. The school appealed, but in August of 2013, the appeal was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals. For the first time, a federal court ruled that student speech, even if it contains possibly lewd language, is protected speech as long as it comments on a political or social issue.

In April of this year, the school district attempted to appeal its case to the Supreme Court. The high court refused to hear the case.

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