Riverside High School Student Suspended for “I Love Boobies!” Bracelet

At Riverside High School in Spokane County, and elsewhere around the nation, students have clashed with school officials over their right to wear bracelets that support breast cancer awareness. The bracelets read “I Love Boobies!” and are sold by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The Keep A Breast Foundation is a non-profit corporation committed to reducing breast cancer, and the group focuses on educating younger people. The Spokesman-Review today covered the story of how Dakota Jewell and  Zack Jordan were suspended from Riverside High School for two days  on Thursday for allegedly refusing to remove their bracelet that read “I Love Boobies!”  When word got out that the two boys were suspended, many of their classmates joined them, wearing similar bracelets, and creating signs with the same slogan.  More students were suspended Friday.  The Spokesman-Review reported that Dakota Jewell donned the bracelet because he has had family members die of the disease and he wanted to promote awareness.   Several students joined their friends in protest and were also suspended, and now some students are vowing to wear the bracelets this Monday as well.

Similar disputes are going on nationwide.  Other schools nationwide have tried to prohibit these bracelets in school.   I have not heard of any such cases going to court.  It is certainly a matter of freedom of speech, but maybe the ACLU isn’t volunteering to take up causes like this because the speech really doesn’t involve overtly political or religious speech.  But that’s just a guess.  Last week, Professor Howard Wasserman of Florida International University School of Law offered his opinion on the subject of “I Love Boobies” bracelets in school.  Wasserman accused the cancer foundation of going for the “lowest common denominator”.  He opined that the students wouldn’t “have a prayer” of prevailing on first amendment grounds.   However, professor Kathleen Bergin of South Texas College of Law wrote last month that she thought the “I Love Boobies” bracelets might be protected by the first amendment.  She wrote: “… it’s hard to see much of a difference between arm bands worn to protest the Vietnam War, which the First Amendment protects, and a bracelet worn to raise awareness about cancer.”  (The legal precedent she refers too is Morse v. Tinker, which I blogged about last year here.)  In the Tinker decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of high school students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam war and to push for a truce.  The school banned all armbands, and when the students wore them anyway, they were suspended.  In 1969, the Supreme Court struck down the school rule, explaining that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

But a student’s right to freedom of speech is not unlimited, and in 1986, in Bethel School District v. Fraser, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the punishment of a student who used vulgar and lewd language when speaking at a school assembly.   The student gave the following speech in support of a candidate for student government:

I know a man who is firm — he’s firm in his pants, he’s firm in his shirt, his character is firm — but most . . . of all, his belief in you, the students of Bethel, is firm.  ‘Jeff Kuhlman is a man who takes his point and pounds it in. If necessary, he’ll take an issue and nail it to the wall. He doesn’t attack things in spurts — he drives hard, pushing and pushing until finally — he succeeds. ‘Jeff is a man who will go to the very end — even the climax, for each and every one of you.

The bracelets the kids at Riverside wear are certainly less disruptive than giving a speech such as the above.  My opinion is that a court would strike down Riverside’s prohibition of such bracelets.  I believe a court would likely side with Dakota Jewell and Zack Jordan.  The “I Love Boobies” bracelets are not as “political” as armbands protesting a war.  However, the way breast cancer research is funded, and the way its survivors are treated is a very hot political issue in the country.  And lets face it the word “boobie” might be a little silly or immature, but it is hardly “vulgar” or “lewd”.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the students of Riverside.  They will be faced Monday with a decision of giving up their rights or attending class.  I remember when MaryBeth Tinker spoke at Gonzaga (see post), she mentioned that it was three years after her suspension before the case went to court.   It would seem to be pretty demeaning to the students to be told that they are so immature that they cannot handle seeing the word “boobie” in small print around someone’s wrist.  If it were my son or daughter, I would tell him to go to school with the bracelet on, but with a little black tape covering the “offensive” word.  Nothing protests censorship like duct tape.

For earlier posts on the subject of freedom of speech in the school setting. see here, here, and here.

What do you think?  Was the principal right to ban these bracelets?  Could these bracelets lead to sexual harassment at all?  Does it matter that these kids seem to have a well-intentioned concern for people with cancer?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

13 Responses to “Riverside High School Student Suspended for “I Love Boobies!” Bracelet”

  • Kibble:

    God this seems silly. It is not like the schools don’t have enough to worry about. Demeaning is right. I went to school twenty years ago, and I don’t think the teachers would have cared about this then.

  • Jonah:

    I work with a school district in central CA. These bracelets, and this issue, has just exploded since Labor Day. There seems to be a real dearth of authority on the subject of school obscenity enforcement. The most recent precedents seem to deal with student attire that espouses strong opinions on the subject of homosexuality or abortion, and courts protect that speech. Is there any more recent authority (since Bethel) on the subject of just offensive language in itself?

    • Steve Graham:

      WHen i was in college, these T-shirts came out that said “Coed Naked Soccer”, “Coed Naked Gold” etc, and then there would be a crude innuendo. A school in Massachusetts banned the shirts, and it was upheld by the state court of appeals, but then it was alter vacated. The court claimed that it was left solely up to school district to define what was obscene. It is really no surprise that the decision was short lived. And in this case at Riverside, the school principal justified his decision because “boobie” is a derogatory term for breast. I don’t agree, but doesn’t that just beg the question of what he would do if the bracelets said “I love breasts!”? There are companies online that will make 250 bracelets saying whatever you want for $100. Maybe the kids should just order those.
      So to answer your question, look at lexis, and use “Coed naked” and Tinker as search terms. There is also a court case out there about banning marilyn manson t-shirts

      • John:

        I agree and disagree with ya Steve. I remember those shirts… Hell I had one or two !!! People should’nt have too change the wording to fit with society. I have a bumper sticker that says ” miners do it in the dirt.” Should I not put that on my truck because it suggests lude conduct?? Or on the other hand, it speaks the truth. I am a miner and I work and make money in dirt… Its all in interpretation. Everyony knows that the kids wareing those bracelets are doing it for one reason, because they really do love boobies. I dont blame them one bit, I do too, I am also aware of breast cancer and would love to see more resurch, so what ever they have to do to create revinue I think is good as long as it is leagle. After all that is what this conversation is all about. FREEDON OF SPEACH, PRESS, RIGHT TO BARE ARMS ETC… Protect my rights!!

        • Steve Graham:

          John, you have to invent a catchy phrase for “Coed Naked Gold Mining (fill in the rest). Can’t think of anything witty right now.

      • Jonah:

        So Pyle v. South Hadley School Committee is right on point, but it has a peculiar procedural history. The higher court certified a question for a different court, and then it just kind of goes into a black hole. Is it still good law?

  • Jonnie B:

    I bought my daughter a skateboarding for breasts t-shirt that had a silk screen bra on it and she was told it was not appropriate for school. I didn’t make a big deal about it, but I wouldn’t have bought the shirt if I thought it was inappropriate. I could understand if she had a shirt saying I love beer! Her shirt didn’t SAY anything per se.

    • Steve Graham:

      I would have to see that “skateboarding for breasts” t-shirt. I tried to google it but i couldn’t find it right off.

  • Jonnie B:

    I think this link connects you to the opinion mentioned by Steve, free of charge: http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=94-2050.01A

  • Alex:

    I agree with Jonah, this is a difficult fact scenario to analyze under the published legal precedent out there. I think the Pyle decision is not good law, & not because of later precedent from the Mass court, rather from federal court decisions that are inconsistent. I don’t think any of us really know what to tell our client districts.

  • God this seems silly. It is not like the schools don’t have enough to worry about. Demeaning is right. I went to school twenty years ago, and I don’t think the teachers would have cared about this then.

  • i go to this school and i think this is so redicolous. if we wear one we get in so much trouble!!!

  • Keith:

    Did you see the new court ruling on this issue Graham?

Leave a Reply

Comments may be edited for content. Please avoid harsh language and profanity. Flaming or use of threatening language is not allowed. Adding a signature is completely optional. I reserve the right to edit or delete comments as I feel necessary. If you do not like the way your comment has been edited, let me know and I will delete it. Thanks for commenting! (It may appear that your comment does not post at first. However, it will usually appear once the administrator logs in.) Leaving a comment does not create an attorney client relationship, and no confidential information should be left in a comment.

FACEBOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR….
Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer who works in eastern Washington, including Spokane, Grant, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, and Okanogan, and Whitman counties. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
........
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
Disclaimer
..........
Categories
Archives