Thursday, March 13, 2014

High Court Refuses to Hear PA's 'Free-Speech Bracelets' Case

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

EASTON, Pa. – Two Pennsylvania girls have won their legal fight to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets in school, after some considered them inappropriate.

The battle began in the Easton School District in 2010, when two middle school students were suspended for wearing bracelets on Breast Cancer Awareness Day that read, "I Heart Boobies."

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the district's appeal of a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found the ban violated the girls' free speech rights.

"What the 3rd Circuit said is, 'Look, if these were plainly lewd, you could ban them,'" said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "'But they're not plainly lewd and they have an important social message.'"

Roper said the girls did get attention for wearing the bracelets in school, but not the kind teachers and administrators had feared.

"People would ask them what the bracelets were about," she said. "Other people would share their stories of families being touched by breast cancer.

“The things the girls did not experience were rude comments or something like that."

Roper added that the Supreme Court decision should give school officials reason to think twice about how students express themselves, and why.

"As it turns out, teenagers sometimes also have important things to say," she said. "When they do, that's the sort of speech that should be encouraged, not discouraged."

The school had banned the bracelets the day before, when teachers complained about them.

Attorneys for the school district felt that the appeals court ruling was ambiguous, giving reason for the Supreme Court to consider the case

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