Breast cancer fundraising bracelets that proclaim "I (heart) boobies!" are neither lewd nor vulgar, and can't be banned by public school officials who find them offensive, a federal judge in Pennsylvania said Tuesday in a preliminary ruling.
The ruling is a victory for two girls suspended for defying a ban on their middle school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
"The bracelets ... can reasonably be viewed as speech designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to reduce stigma associated with openly discussing breast health," U.S. Judge Mary McLaughlin wrote in a 40-page ruling issued Tuesday. She added that the school district had not shown the bracelets would be disruptive in school.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the girls, had sued to overturn the ban and stop the school from punishing their clients. McLaughlin issued a temporary injunction Tuesday that bars the Easton Area School District from banning the $4 rubber bracelets until the case goes to trial.
An attorney for the school district did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the ruling.
The judge heard testimony from the students and school administrators in December.
Easton school officials argue the slogan suggests a sexual double entendre and leads to in-school distractions. They also suggested two boys had tried to touch the girls inappropriately.
Easton is one of several school districts around the country to ban the bracelets, which are distributed by the Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif. The nonprofit has said it sells the bracelets to engage young people in breast cancer awareness.
Easton students Brianna Hawk, then 13, and Kayla Martinez, then 12, testified that they did not intend the message to be sexual. They received in-school suspensions last fall.
"Anybody that gets this disease ... could die from it. It's very tragic," Martinez testified.
The foundation — which concedes their message isn't for everyone — gets $1.50 from each bracelet sold by an outside retailer and $4 from its own sales.
Schools from Florida to California have banned the bracelets. One Oregon high school said the message was getting lost on the ninth-grade boys who were wearing them.
The ACLU has intervened in similar school disputes across the country, including a second case in Pennsylvania and one in Wyoming in which a student was allowed to keep wearing a bracelet except in the presence of two teachers who found it objectionable. But the Easton families are the first to file suit
"If the phrase "I (heart) Boobies!" appeared in isolation and not within the context of a legitimate, national breast cancer awareness campaign, the school district would have a much stronger argument," McLaughlin wrote. "This is not the case here. One of the bracelets ... did not even contain the word 'boobies,' but rather said 'check y(heart)ur self!!'"