‘Boobies’ Round Three: Indiana student files free speech lawsuit over bracelet ban

The “I ? Boobies” cancer awareness campaign saw more publicity Monday than Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl halftime show a night prior. (OK, so that’s not true — but we can dream, right?)

While a Wisconsin district court denied a student’s motion for a preliminary injunction over a First Amendment claim, not to worry — an Indiana student filed suit the same day with another federal district court over virtually the same case. A Pennsylvania district court ruled in favor of a student in a third case back in April.

All three cases concern Keep a Breast Foundation promotional tools: bracelets that proclaim the phrase “I ? Boobies.” The bracelets are intended to spread awareness about breast cancer among young people.

As the fad has spread, though, so has schools officials’ tendency to punish students for the bracelets’ allegedly “indecent,” “lewd” and “offensive” connotations.

The Indiana case centers on an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School. His mother bought the bracelet for him. When he wore the bracelet to school in early January, the vice principal instructed him to turn it inside out, claiming it was a violation of the dress code.

The boy, identified only as “L.G.” in the complaint, said many other students wear the same bracelets. To his knowledge, there has never been a disruption at school because of them, according to the lawsuit. Despite this, the school administration warned him he could be expelled if he continued to wear the bracelet to school, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction forcing the school to allow the bracelets and a declaration that the student’s free expression rights were violated. It also wants the school district to cover the costs of the litigation.

The Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana cases have strikingly similar facts. Despite the similarities, though, the newly filed Indiana case could be seen as a tiebreaker of sorts. The Wisconsin court ruled in favor of the school, citing the students’ maturity level as an important factor; the Pennsylvania court ruled for the student, stating the bracelets are non-disruptive tools of protected expression.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is representing the Indiana student in court. Ken Falk, legal director for ACLU of Indiana, said Monday’s Wisconsin decision to back the school doesn’t concern him.

“I don’t think it will necessarily have any impact,” Falk said Tuesday. “The court will certainly look at the Wisconsin decision as well as the one coming from Pennsylvania.”

With the Pennsylvania case on appeal and the Wisconsin case perhaps not far behind, all we have to do now is wait.