IN THE SCHOOL
As soon as Valedictorian Remington Reimer began to talk of the Constitution and his faith, school officials shut off his microphone, prohibiting him from exercising his free speech rights.
Following the ceremony, Joshua High School Principal Mike Cochran met with Reimer’s father, Todd Reimer, and informed him that he intended to punish his son for his actions during the ceremony. He specifically threatened to send a letter to the U.S. Naval Academy, where Reimer is set to attend later this month, and ruin his reputation.
Texas state law, federal law, and Joshua ISD policy require the school to distance itself from a valedictorian’s speech, including not editing or drafting the speech. It is also required that a school print a disclaimer in the graduation program that must read in part 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.”
Contrary to the law and its own policies, Joshua ISD school officials did edit and attempt to control Reimer’s speech. In fact, Reimer’s speech was reviewed and edited by no fewer than four government school officials. The district also failed to include the required disclaimer in the graduation program.
“These school officials broke the rules and violated state and federal law, and their own board policy,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Director of Litigation. “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.”
As required under Texas law, Liberty Institute sent a letter to Joshua ISD officials giving them 60 days to comply with state law to avoid legal consequences. Read the letter here.
”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,” said Reimer.
Read the “censored” portion of Reimer’s speech here.
Because of the years of legal threats and misinformation by groups like the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation, millions of public school students and school administrators have been misled about their First Amendment rights. As in the case with Joshua ISD, many times these schools infringe upon the religious freedom of students to avoid legal action by these aggressive groups.
Another example of this misinformation was reported this week in Pickens County South Carolina, where the school district illegally banned prayer at school events after receiving a demand letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation. However, Valedictorian Roy Costner IV chose to exercise his First Freedom, regardless of the ban.
The 18-year-old became an Internet sensation after he ripped up his pre-approved valedictory speech and instead spoke from the heart, addressing his faith and earning strong applause from the crowd when he delivered the Lord’s Prayer. Videos of his speech went viral, with one clip reaching more than 700,000 views in less than ten days.
Liberty Institute is proud of students like Reimer and Costner for making the bold decision to stand for their faith, and we encourage other students across the country to do the same. Their willingness to stand up for religious liberty may not only secure their own personal rights to engage in constitutionally protected speech, expression and practice, but may also impact thousands, if not millions, of other public school students nationwide.
A perfect example of this is Angela Hildenbrand, who was told by a federal judge that she could not pray during her graduation speech — or risk imprisonment if she did. Liberty Institute rushed to Angela’s defense and had the judge’s ruling overturned by an appellate court, allowing Angela to exercise her First Amendment right to publicly pray in Jesus’ name. Not only was this a huge victory for Angela, but it also set a precedent for 45 million public school students across the country.
In support of students everywhere, Liberty Institute launched “The Angela Project,” our nationwide effort to stop the widespread assault of religious freedom in public schools. With your help, Liberty will stop the systematic persecution of students of faith by first educating all involved – students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards. And, when government school officials disregard what the law allows, Liberty Institute will take them to court.
So, if a public school censors or prohibits your, or your student’s religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the actions violate your First Amendment rights, please contact Liberty Institute at 972-941-4444 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on students’ rights, download a free copy of the “Know Your Religious Rights Kit,” a comprehensive guide to religious freedom in the public school system. Make sure your children or grandchildren have this resource before they begin school this fall, and please share it with others.
Also, please consider a gift today to join the battle and help defend and restore the religious rights of not only Remington Reimer, but also the millions of other public school students’ across the country. Your generous financial support will help us continue to educate schools districts throughout the country and will help in the defense of those fighting to protect their constitutional rights.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.