A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Cheerleaders, Pink Tees, and Free Speech

By Leah Braukman

Ah, October! Cooler weather, golden and scarlet-hued leaves, pumpkin flavored everything and Halloween. And – – the color pink. October is widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink is its signature shade.

Yes, in October, Panera Bread bakery-cafes sell a “pink ribbon bagel” and the National Football League has professional ball players donning pink uniforms.  And then there are the events: walks, galas, dinners. There don’t seem to be enough days in the month to make time for all the breast cancer fundraising events. Just last week, Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue each sponsored its own star-studded dinner for breast cancer research. On the very same evening.

Add to the list of those rallying for the cause, cheerleaders at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona.

These enterprising young ladies, in an effort to raise money for breast cancer research, had pretty-in-pink t-shirts made with the catchy slogan “Feel for Lumps, Save Your Bumps.” The t-shirts were going to be worn while cheering and while collecting donations at school football games, until the school’s principal found out about the plan. He deemed the shirts inappropriate and banned the cheerleaders from wearing them.

Combine nubile young teenage girls with a fuddy-duddy of a principal possibly encroaching on both free speech and charitable giving, and all the ingredients were there for the story to quickly garner national attention. But the press accounts didn’t do the legal analysis, balancing public school students’ First Amendment rights to freedom of expression against a public school’s right to censor particular types of speech.

We did, and here’s our verdict: If the students sued, they’d likely be allowed to wear these shirts. Here’s why.   (more…)

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