Joshua High School’s valedictorian had his microphone turned off during his speech when he began to talk about his faith, deviating from comments that school officials had approved before Thursday’s graduation ceremony.The valedictorian, salutatorian and historian must submit their speeches for review by administrators before commencement, officials said.Valedictorian Remington Reimer was muted because his speech deviated from the approved version, Joshua school district Superintendent Fran Marek said.“They were told if they deviated form the speech that the mic would be turned off. It had nothing to do with the content,” Marek said in a telephone interview Friday.Neither Reimer nor his parents, of Burleson, could be reached for comment Friday.Serena Bair of Cleburne, who was in the crowd at Owl Stadium to watch her daughter graduate, said Reimer spoke for about a minute before the audience heard clicking sounds and the microphone was turned off.“He talked about how God was the reason why he and his fellow classmates had graduated,” said Bair, who organized a senior breakfast the morning of graduation.“He just talked about Christ and about Jesus being put up on the cross and dying and giving up his body and his blood for our sins so that we could be there.”Reimer finished his speech without the microphone, Bair said, but graduates sitting near the stage could still hear him. Those teens led the audience in a standing ovation of Reimer, Bair said.Joshua’s graduating class had 245 students.“I went up to him afterward and shook his hand and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know you, but I’m really proud of you for what you had to say tonight.’ It really touched my heart that he continued on with it,” Bair said.It is common for school districts to review and approve speeches by student graduation speakers.Marek, who also released a statement Friday, said the move followed district policy and procedures.The policy on student expression states that student speakers must stay on their subject but does not address approval of graduation speeches or the consequences for going off topic.Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute in Plano, said the district’s actions violated its own policy, the First Amendment and state law.In 2007, Texas legislators passed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act, known as the RVAA, which requires districts to adopt a policy to create a limited public forum for student speakers at school events.“The reason why their policy does not allow for prior review and prohibits religious-viewpoint discrimination is because Texas state law requires that of their policy,” Sasser said. “One of the whole points of the RVAA was to eliminate all this prior-review stuff. The whole point of this policy is to get the school district out of the business of censoring speech and controlling the speech of the students.”But Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, hailed the district’s actions.“If it has a policy that it preapproves the speech, they have the right and a duty to cut off the mic if the student deviates from the approved script or is doing something that would embarrass or reflect poorly on the school,” she said.In an article posted Thursday on the website of The Joshua Star newspaper, Reimer said he was active in the high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit and has an appointment to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, where he wants to major in physics.Joshua school board President Ronnie Galbreath could not be reached for comment Friday.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown