Everyone kept a straight face in U.S. District Court on Thursday as a judge heard arguments about whether

boobies

is a vulgar word - or at least a double entendre - and therefore can be banned by middle school administrators.

The lawsuit was filed after the Easton (Pa.) School District forbade the wearing of "I (heart) boobies" bracelets and suspended two eighth-grade girls who refused to remove them.

Ironically, the incident occurred on Oct. 28, Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which the school district endorsed and participated in.

Just not with the boobies bracelets now enjoying a boomlet among teenage girls. The bracelet sales fund a nonprofit group that educates young women about breast cancer.

In court, the very self-possessed and very serious students testified that the word is not offensive when used in the context of breast cancer, and that banning the bracelets violated their right to free speech.

The school district said other students might consider the word vulgar, and girls' wearing the bracelets could inadvertently encourage bad behavior by their male classmates.

"They can be very offensive to someone who walks up and says, 'I love your boobies,' " said Angela DiVeitro, the principal of Easton Area Middle School, located east of Allentown. "They can view it as sexual harassment, and I have to make sure the kids are not being sexually harassed in my school." But no disturbance connected to the bracelets occurred before they were banned, she said under questioning.

DiVeitro explained that she had forbidden other questionable items, including Hooters jerseys and Big Pecker's Bar & Grill T-shirts from the Ocean City, Md., establishment of the same name.

Testifying before Judge Mary McLaughlin, the students described their confrontation with school administrators and discussed whether even the best-intentioned use of boobies could prompt a 13-year-old boy to reflect on something other than cancer awareness.

The school district lawyer with the task of quizzing the girls - one 13, the other 12, - was John E. Freund III. He tried hard to be gentlemanly about it.

"That phrase, 'I love boobies,' do you see any other meaning to that? Say, especially from boys' perspective?" Freund asked 13-year-old Brianna Hawk.

"No," Hawk said.

"Do you think boys would have a natural attraction to girls' breasts?" Freund asked.

"Yes," Hawk answered.

"So couldn't it possibly mean something else?"

"No," insisted Hawk. In the context of the bracelet that simply was not possible, she said.

Kayla Martinez, 12, conceded that some boys encountering the word could respond in a less-than-mature fashion. But they, she said dismissively, would be boys who "act like they are 2."

Hawk and Martinez, in the court filing, said they had permission from their parents to wear the rubbery bracelets, even after being told of the ban. The girls' parents endorsed the bracelets to raise awareness of breast cancer and considered boobies acceptable in that context.

After refusing to remove the bracelets and then giving each other a "low five" as they were escorted to the administrator's office, they were suspended for a day and a half for "defiance, disruption, and disrespect."

Hawk and Martinez are being represented by Carl W. Hittinger for the American Civil Liberties Union. The case is not expected to be decided until sometime next year.

The bracelets are produced by the Keep a Breast Foundation, a small Los Angeles nonprofit organization. The foundation teaches women how to prevent and detect breast cancer. Sales of the bracelets fund its mission, which is targeted to women between 13 and 30.

The marketing manager for the foundation, Kimmy McAtee, declined to concede that "I love boobies" could have a sexual connotation, but she acknowledged that a porn star had offered to market the bracelets.

The nonprofit group declined.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.