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Liberty Letter to Joshua ISD

Liberty Letter to Joshua ISD

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Published by Adam Crouch
The Liberty Institute sent a letter to Joshua ISD to give school officials 60 days to comply with state law to avoid legal consequences.
The Liberty Institute sent a letter to Joshua ISD to give school officials 60 days to comply with state law to avoid legal consequences.

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Published by: Adam Crouch on Jun 13, 2013
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12/31/2013

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f I NS TIT U TE

Restorinq Religious Liberty in America
June 13, 2013
Sent via Certified Mail RRR # 7009 2820 0002 0779 5365
Joshua Independent School District School Board Members
Ronnie Galbreath
David Taylor
Chris Ohlsen
Gene Loflin
Myra Pruitt
Taffy Ward
Jason Moss, and
Joshua Independent School District Superintendent Fran Marek
P.O. Box 40
Joshua, Texas
76058-3117
Dear Superintendent Marek and Board Members:
Remington Reimer retained Liberty Institute to represent him in this matter. As
such, please direct all correspondence to me. This letter serves as formal notice under
the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Chapter 110 of the Texas Civil Practices
and Remedies Code.
1
As the Joshua High School (JHS) class valedictorian, Remington earned the
privilege of speaking to his classmates at the JHS graduation ceremony, which t ook
place on June 6, 2013. Remington informed Liberty Institute about the unfortunate
circumstances surrounding the ceremony.
It is our understanding that, on several occasions prior to the graduation
ceremony, JHS officials met with three JHS students- the Salutatorian, the Class
Historian, and Remington as Valedictorian- who were selected to give speeches at
the graduation ceremony. JHS officials advised the three students that school officials
must review and approve their speeches prior to the graduation ceremony. On June 5,
2013, the day prior to the ceremony, JHS officials further advised the three students
that any student who deviated from their pre-approved speech would have his or her
microphone turned off during their speech.
Accordingly, Remington provided a copy of hi s proposed speech to Cheryl Adkins,
a JHS faculty member who was in charge of the graduation ceremony. Ms. Adkins
1 School officials substanti ally burdened Mr. Reimer' s religious liberty, and they had no compelling
interest to do so, nor did they use the least rest r icti ve mea ns to advance any governmental interest.
2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 1600 • Plano, Texas 75075 · Phone: 972.941.4444 • Libertylnstitute.org
reviewed the speech and then turned it over to JHS assistant principal Stan McVey.
Assistant Principal McVey informed Remington that his speech was not approved and
instructed him to re-write his speech, which he did. After reviewing Remington's
revised speech, Assistant Principal McVey approved it and turned it over to JHS
principal Mick Cochran for further review. Upon reviewing Remington's speech,
Principal Cochran informed Lieutenant Colonel CUCol) Davidson, the JHS Naval Junior
Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor, that he thought the speech could use
further editing by LtCol Davidson. LtCol Davidson requested that Remington provide
him with his speech for yet another review, which Remington did. Upon his review,
LtCol Davidson edited a substantial portion of it. Thus, Remington re-wrote his
speech and submitted it a third time. This time, after review and editing by no fewer
than four JHS officials, Remington's revised speech received JHS approval.
On the evening of the graduation ceremony, Remington delivered the entire
speech that JHS officials had reviewed, revised, and approved beforehand. But when
Remington continued speaking beyond what had been reviewed and approved, JHS
officials turned off his microphone. The portion of Remington's speech that he was
not permitted to complete consisted of twelve sentences. No portion of Remington's
speech contained any obscenity or vulgarity.
On Friday, June 7, 2013, JHS Principal Mick Cochran met with Remington's father,
Todd Reimer, and informed him that he intended to punish Remington for his
perceived misdeed during the graduation ceremony. Specifically, he threatened to
send a letter to the United States Naval Academy where Remington will matriculate in
June 2013, advising them that Remington has poor character, or words to that effect.
But after consulting with a JISD attorney, Principal Cochran temporarily retracted his
threat. As of this letter, Principal Cochran has not stated his intended action.
Pursuant to the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act CRVAA), Tex. Educ.
Code §§ 25.151-.157, Joshua ISO adopted policy FNA (local). As required by policy
FNA (local) and RV AA, Joshua ISO created a limited public forum for valedictorians to
deliver their own message. FNA (local) does not provide for a prior review of the
speech of a valedictorian and for good reason. ((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." FNA (local). In fact,
FNA (local) requires this exact statement disclaiming involvement in the creation of
the speech of the valedictory address as well as the speeches of the other student-
speakers to be printed in the graduation program. School officials, however, failed to
follow FNA (local) on a number of levels, including failing to print the disclaimer in
the graduation program. As such, the school officials in charge of the graduation
ceremony violated state law and the policy established by the Joshua ISO Board of
Trustees. If school officials had followed the Board's policy, graduation would have
taken place without controversy. We recommend the Board take action to ensure all
school officials follow Board policy for graduations in the future.
2
Another reason FNA (local) does not provide for prior review of a valedictory
address is that "[i]t has long been held that ordinances regulating speech contingent
on the will of an official - such as the requirement of a license or permit that may be
withheld or granted in the discretion of an official-are unconstitutional burdens on
speech classified as prior restraints." Chiu v. Plano Ind. Sch. Dist., 339 F.3d 273, 280-81
(5th Cir. 2003) (citing Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 322 (1958). In addition, a
"prior restraint, while not per se unconstitutional, bears a heavy presumption against
its constitutional validity. See Id. Moreover, "a law subjecting the exercise of First
Amendment freedoms to the prior restraint of a license, without narrow, objective,
and definite standards to guide the licensing authority, is unconstitutional. " Id.
(internal citations omitted); see also Shanley v. Northeast Independent School District,
Bexar County Texas, 462 F.2d 960 (5th Cir. 1972) (noting that "the purpose of any
screening regulation . . . is to prevent disruption and not to stifle expression"). The
Joshua ISO Board adopted an appropriate policy to avoid the problems related to
prior review schemes. School officials in charge of the graduation should have
followed the policy. Instead, the school officials entangled Joshua ISO in a
constitutional violation unnecessarily.
Finally, FNA (local) does not provide a prior-review scheme but instead requires
the disclaimer to be printed in the graduation program because school-official
involvement in the crafting of student speeches at graduation ceremonies risks loss of
federal funding for Joshua ISO. Pursuant to the No Child Left Behind Act, 20 USc. §
7904, the United States Department of Education drafted guidelines for student
speech, including student speakers at graduation ceremonies. According to the
Department of Education:
Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on
the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary
control over the content of their expression, however, that expression
is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted
because of its religious (or anti -religious) content. To avoid any
mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private
speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may
make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech
(whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker's and not the
school's.
U.S. Dep't of Ed., Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public
Elementary and Secondary Schools, dated February 7, 2003.
(http://www2.ed.gov /policy /gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer _guidance.
html, last accessed on June 12, 2013)
3
We would like to meet with the Superintendent before June 24, 2013 to resolve
the issues surrounding the Joshua High School graduation that took place on June 6,
2013. Specifically, we are seeking a public statement from Joshua ISO exonerating
Remington Reimer of any wrongdoing. All he did was simply follow state law and
Joshua ISO policy FNA (local). In addition, we are seeking a statement from Joshua
ISO that in the future, school officials will follow FNA (local) and not deviate from
Board policy or RVAA.
cc:
Sincerely,
' l L ~
Hiram Sasser
Director of Litigation
Liberty Institute
United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711-2548
4

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