Appeals court hears Pa. 'boobies' bracelets case

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court is considering an eastern Pennsylvania school district's efforts to ban on breast cancer fundraising bracelets that say "I (heart) boobies!"

The (Easton) Express-Times (http://bit.ly/IpfHIV) says the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Philadelphia heard opening statements Tuesday in the case, in which two Easton Area Middle School students say their freedom of speech rights were violated when they were suspended for wearing the bracelets in October 2010.

The district is appealing a federal judge's ruling that the district cannot ban the rubber jewelry because it is not lewd, vulgar or distracting to the school day.

.Attorneys for the district and the American Civil Liberties Union sparred Tuesday over whether the phrase has a sexual connotation.

"Everybody understands this is about breast cancer," argued ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper. "There is nothing sexual about breast cancer."

But district solicitor John Freund called the bracelets "cause-based marketing energized by sexual double-entendres." A ruling in favor of them, he argued, could open the floodgates to similar marketing campaigns for testicular cancer and prostate cancer containing a vulgar reference to the male anatomy.

Roper, however, agreed that the latter could be construed as sexual and appropriately banned by a school district. She argued that the phrase on the bracelets was not sexual unless body parts are "inherently sexualized," and many young girls use the phrase "boobs" or "boobies" rather than "breasts," making the idea less emotionally and sexually charged.

Freund argued that the phrase has a sexual connotation that is heightened by the age of the children involved.

"Middle school is a witch's brew of hormones and curiosity," he said.

Roper countered that almost anything can garner a sexual connotation at the middle school level, down to "the relative hardness of minerals."

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