JOSHUA, Tex. — A valedictorian in Texas says that officials at his local school district violated the United States Constitution when they turned off his microphone because he deviated from his approved speech to talk about Jesus and the Constitution.
Remington Reimer of Joshua High School told reporters that staff members reviewed and edited his speech several times before approving it for the ceremony.
“I just assumed it was grammatical editing, which I assumed that what they want to make sure was I didn’t make any mistakes while I was on the stage,” Reimer told local television station NBC5. “I didn’t expect it to be anything of a sort of deleting lines, adding sentences, changing the whole message of the speech.”
Reporter Ken Klukowski, who obtained a copy of Reimer’s original speech, notes that the school removed “a reference to his Christian faith, and [comments] thanking God for sending Jesus Christ to secure forgiveness for sin.”
However, Reimer decided that he was going to speak about his faith from stage anyway.
“But before I finish, I want to thank my family, who raised me in a loving Christian home,” he added to the end of his speech, also thanking his teachers. “But most importantly, I want to thank God for giving up His only Son for us to an excruciating death on a cross so His blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to Heaven in accepting his grace.”
Moments later, his microphone was cut.
“I worked hard to earn the right to address you all tonight as valedictorian and have the constitutional right–like any of you– to freely speak about the factors that —,” he said before going silent.
The audio was turned back on for a few seconds, but once again went silent as Reimer spoke of how he had been threatened to have his microphone shut off if he deviated from the approved text.
“We are all fortunate to live in a country where we can express our beliefs, where our mics won’t be turned off, as I have been threatened to be if I veer away from the school-censored speech I have just finished,” he declared. “Just as Jesus spoke out against the authority of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who tried to silence him, I will not have my freedom of speech taken away from me. And I urge you all to do the same. Do not let anyone take away your religious or Constitutional rights from you.”
While some contend that Reimer was censored due to the expression of his beliefs, the district disagrees and says that the silencing of the student’s speech had nothing to do with the content of his message.
“The district has reviewed the rules and policy regarding graduation speech, and it has been determined that policy was followed at the Joshua High School 2013 graduation ceremony,” wrote superintendent Fran Marek in a Facebook post.
“The valedictorian, salutatorian, and class historian speeches were reviewed in advance by the campus staff, prior to the graduation ceremony. Student speakers were told that if their speeches deviated from the prior-reviewed material, the microphone would be turned off, regardless of content,” she continued. “When one student’s speech deviated from the prior-reviewed speech, the microphone was turned off, pursuant to district policy and procedure.”
Reimer has now contacted the Liberty Institute, a Texas-based Christian legal organization, for assistance. His attorney, Hiram Sasser, says that state and federal law, as well as district policy, requires that rather than controlling student speech, officials must notate in the program that “the content of each student speaker’s message is the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district.”
“These school officials broke the rules and violated state and federal law, and their own board policy,” Sasser said in a news release Thursday. “They should be ashamed of themselves for violating school board policy and causing this needless embarrassment for Joshua ISD and the Joshua community. Remington followed the rules. Why can’t they? We expect the good folks on the school board to take appropriate action to ensure their policies are followed next time.”
The Liberty Institute has now sent a letter to the district demanding that they comply with the law or be subject to potential legal action.