A Texas high school principal threatened to sabotage a valedictorian’s appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy after the student delivered a speech that referenced God and the U.S. Constitution, the boy’s attorney alleges.
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation with the Liberty Institute, said Joshua High School principal Mick Cochran threatened to write a letter to the U.S. Naval Academy disparaging the character of Remington Reimer.
“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 speech, the teenager said.
Sasser is now representing the teenager and is calling for the Joshua Independent School District to issue a public statement exonerating him of any wrongdoing.
He said the speech was edited and reviewed by four different school officials – including an officer in the JROTC. Sasser said the censorship violated federal and state laws.
“All he did was simply follow state law and Joshua ISD policy,” he said.
Neither the school district nor the principal responded to telephone calls or email seeking comment on the allegations.
Reimer, a senior at Joshua High School, made national headlines on June 6 when officials cut off his microphone in mid-speech after he strayed from pre-approved remarks and began talking about his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Reimer, who has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, thanked God for “sending His only son to die for me and the rest of the world,” the Joshua Star reported.
The following day the principal met with Reimer’s father and informed him “that he intended to punish Remington for his perceived misdeed.”
“Specifically, he threatened to send a letter to the United States Naval Academy advising them that Remington has poor character or words to that effect,” Sasser told Fox News.
After consulting with a school attorney, the principal temporarily retracted the threat, Sasser said.
“The principal said he wanted to try to ruin him for what he did – for talking about the Constitution and his faith,” Sasser said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be able to continue to be the principal of that school.”
Reimer, described by his classmates as quiet and soft-spoken, then talked about free speech and the Constitution and how “I was threatened with having the mic turned off.”
And that point – the audio feed was cut – leaving those in the audience confused. But Reimer kept on talking.
Following is a transcript of what the school district didn’t want graduates or their families to hear:
“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 said according to the Star. “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.”
Principal Mick Cochran defended the school’s decision to cut off the audio feed.
“The district has reviewed the rules and policies regarding graduation speeches and has determined that the policy was followed last night,” he told the Star.
The Joshua ISD issued a statement to MyFoxDFW noting, “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.”
But Sasser said the school district violated state and federal laws by censoring Reimer’s speech. He said the law, along with local school policy, requires the school to distance itself from the valedictorian’s speech. That means not editing or drafting the speech.
The school was also required to publish a message in the graduation program that read in part, “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.”
Sasser said contrary to the law and its own policies the Joshua Independent School District failed to include the disclaimer and not only edited – but tried to control Reimer’s speech.
“These school officials broke the rules and violated state and federal law and their own board policy,” Sasser said. “They should be held accountable for violating school board policy and causing needless embarrassment for Joshua ISD and the Joshua community.”