The school warned Remington Reimer that they’d stop him if he went off-script and talked about his faith, a warning they fulfilled moments after Reimer included it in his valedictory address to Joshua High School graduates. Despite the fact that other speakers mentioned God in their remarks, the school cut off Reimer’s microphone in the middle of his explanation of how faith saw him through the travails of adolescence and school. Now, the local CBS affiliate’s report puts Joshua Independent School District in Texas on the hot seat — and they don’t want to talk about it:
Reimer thanked his parents, teachers and classmates. “Most people have never ever heard me speak much less see me smile,” said Reimer.
He then talked about his faith and God, “Most important I want to thank God for giving us the only son who went through excruciating death on a cross…”
Then he said it was his constitutional right to talk about such topics. “I was threatened with having the mic turned off,” and right then the mic was turned off. Reimer continued with his speech, but not everyone heard it. …
JISD officials approve all speeches and some students said Reimer went with a copy of one that wasn’t approved.
“He sent in a prior speech before that and they threw it away so he wasn’t going to let them tell him what to say – what not to say,” said graduate Bryce Daniels.
The district is not commenting and wouldn’t even give CBS 11 a statement.
Later, though, the district did defend itself:
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.
I’ve made a number of speeches at a lot of private venues, and I’ve never been asked to submit my remarks for approval from the host organizations. Of course, I’m not a high-school student, either, and student discipline is a legitimate interest for schools and school districts. On the other hand, schools aren’t private organizations — they’re part of the state, and the state doesn’t have carte blanche in censoring the speech of students, especially when it comes to expressing religious beliefs, which have no real potential discipline issues other than the potential distaste for specific religious beliefs, or religious beliefs in general.
If all that happened was a reaction to deviation from a prepared speech, then Joshua ISD acted in an immature and retaliatory manner for which they should apologize. If the action took place because of the specificity of Reimer’s speech in regard to his faith — the “excruciating death on a cross” passage — then I’d argue that the school interfered with his First Amendment right to free speech. Either way, Reimer wasn’t inciting the crowd to riot or lawlessness by explaining his reliance on Christianity, and the school district exposed itself as petty and autocratic in the extreme by attempting to silence him.