By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two girls suspended from a U.S. school for refusing to remove "I (heart sign) Boobies!" bracelets supporting breast cancer awareness said on Tuesday they feel vindicated by a U.S. appeals court decision that says their free speech rights were violated.
"It's definitely exciting to know we did something important," said Brianna Hawk, who was an eighth grader at the eastern Pennsylvania public school when she took action that would lead to Monday's decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We finally made a point that the bracelet isn't that bad," said Kayla Martinez, who was a seventh grader at the time at Easton Area Middle School.
The opinion began three years ago, when the girls started wearing the bracelets stating "I (heart sign) Boobies! (KEEP A BREAST)." The bracelets came from an organization that wanted to open a dialog about body image and breast cancer.
School administrators, however, worried that the bracelets were an unneeded invitation to middle school boys to make lewd comments and banned them.
A battle over the bracelets made it all the way to the full appeals court, which ruled the school district cannot ban them, citing their right to free speech.
Lawyers for the school district did not return calls and emails for comment.
The school district, joined by the Pennsylvania Association of School Boards argued that allowing the bracelets would open the door to a parade of other, more vulgar slogans with seemingly political or social statements. They said these included a t-shirt that reads "Save the ta-tas" (another breast cancer group), an advertisement for testicular cancer research that reads "balls" and one for human Papillomaviruses that says "I (heart sign) va jay jays," according to court papers filed by the association.
The court found that helping students navigate these questions falls within the school's duty to train them as citizens.
"Schools cannot avoid teaching citizens-in-training how to appropriately navigate the 'marketplace of ideas.' Just because letting in one idea might invite even more difficult judgment calls about other ideas cannot justify suppressing speech of genuine social value," the court said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andrew Hay)