From Fox News today:
Taxpayers in an eastern Pennsylvania community are out nearly $400,000 after the school district lost a four-year legal battle over breast cancer awareness bracelets officials deemed offensive. …
Brianna, who was 12 at the time, and Kayla Martinez, who was 13, were in middle school when they challenged their school’s ban on the bracelets in October, 2010. With the ACLU representing them, the girls claimed their First Amendment rights to free speech and sued the district in federal court in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin ruled in their favor, but the school district appealed, calling the bracelets’ messages “vulgar” and subject to regulation. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 9-5 opinion that the breast cancer awareness message was protected by the First Amendment, notwithstanding its potential to offend, because it is a social or political statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal sought by the district, leaving in place the lower court’s August decision.
I am glad to see the school district slapped down hard. I do not even regret that they were assessed the large legal fee. It will teach them, and other school districts, to quit playing the games that they have been playing with the First Amendment. Note that the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. Having already lost in two courts, it is shameful that the school district kept trying to force the view that they had the right to control everything about student behavior and speech while in their buildings. Worse is the fact that there are all too many school districts that also try to control student speech outside the school on the grounds that it brings ill-repute to the school. There have been more than one judicial case in which schools disciplined a student for a post made on Facebook or other social media while outside school hours.
It is good to see the courts weigh in on the free speech issue in this way. Frankly, there are all too many school districts in which the administration deserves to have its collective knuckles rapped with a hard ruler. May this set of rulings be only the beginning.