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Constitutional Law

Valedictorian gets legal counsel after high school turns off mic during his commencement speech

Posted Jun 14, 2013 6:15 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A high school valedictorian has gotten legal counsel after a Texas high school reportedly made good on a threat to turn off the microphone if he deviated from a preapproved commencement speech.

Remington Reimer, 19, who expects to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, also contends that the principal of Joshua High School said he was going to tell the military academy that he had poor character after the June 6 commencement. Although most of his own words were lost, after the microphone was turned off, the valedictorian said he had intended to talk about faith, liberty and his religious beliefs, the Star-Telegram reports.

“It was intimidating having my high school principal threaten my future because I wanted to stand up for the Constitution and acknowledge my faith and not simply read a government-approved message,” he told the newspaper in a telephone interview on Thursday.

He says the preapproved commencement speech he was supposed to give had been heavily edited, changing his words and thoughts. So, after he finished delivering the preapproved speech, he continued with 12 sentences of his own. The mic was turned off as he started to say: "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 that I have just finished.”

A Thursday certified letter (PDF) sent by the Liberty Institute to school board members provides additional details and discusses law and policy that Hiram Sasser, the group's director of litigation, says was violated.

The school principal, school superintendent and school board president did not immediately respond to the Star-Telegram's request for comment. However, the superintendent, Fran Marek, posted a note on the school's website.

It states that 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. 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. When one student’s speech deviated from the prior-reviewed speech, the microphone was turned off, pursuant to district policy and procedure."

Reimer is seeking a public statement exonerating him from any wrongdoing and a promise to comply with state law and district policy, which he and the Liberty Institute say the school violated by censoring his speech.

It does not appear, the newspaper article notes, that the principal has actually carried out his claimed threat to notify the Naval Academy about Reimer's character.

See also

Burleson Star: "Liberty Institute: JISD violated own policy, not Reimer"

Updated at 1:23 p.m. to make an AP style correction.

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