Violating the First Amendment, High School Punishes Student for Satirical Campaign Speech

by Austin Yack

Honors student J.P. Krause won the election for senior class president at Vero Beach High School in Vero Beach, Fla. And then, all of a sudden, his victory was stripped from him.

Summarily, the high school’s administrators stripped him of his new position, and, to add insult to injury, gave him detention. Why? Because Krause delivered a satirical campaign speech that channeled Donald Trump’s presidential campaign rhetoric and, in jest, claimed his opponent was a Communist. It was “harassment,” the principal concluded.

After Krause’s classmates chanted “speech, speech,” he gave an impromptu speech that kept his fellow classmates laughing for well over a minute. “I am for freedom, equality, and liberty,” he said. His opponent? Well, she wants to “advance Communist ideals,” he smirked. “She will raise taxes to 80 percent!”

Krause also suggested in jest that his opponent supports their rivals at the nearby high school, whereas he would “build a wall” between the two schools — and make their rival pay for it.

No one thought Krause was serious. The room, full of honors students in U.S. History, seemed to be well aware of the parallels Krause was making between his campaign speech and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign speeches. The teacher allowed the off-the-cuff speech to continue, and there wasn’t any reaction by students inside the classroom but laughter.

Nevertheless, the speech not only disqualified Krause from taking up the reins as class president, it also added “harassment” to his school record. “The administration took my speech out of context and said I was harassing a student,” Krause tells National Review.

“It was a joke the whole way through.”

Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, is representing Krause in an attempt to remove the harassment claims from his school record. It also seeks to reinstate Krause as class president. “It was pure political speech and obviously humorous,” explains Mark Miller, Krause’s attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, to National Review. “It’s clearly protected in First Amendment speech.”

In a letter sent to Mark Rendell, the superintendent of the school district, Miller argued that “if a student gives a speech that is lewd, vulgar, or profane, then the school can sanction him.”

“But that is not remotely the case here,” Miller retorted. Satirically claiming that an opponent in a class election wants to raise taxes, advance Communism, and implement a dress code is certainly not “lewd, vulgar, or profane” — it’s a joke.

Because the high school applied the same speech code that it would use to punish students who say “lewd, vulgar, or profane” comments to that of a satirical speech, Miller contests that it is violating the First Amendment. “J.P.’s speech in no way singled out his fellow student candidate for her appearance, abilities, gender, race, creed, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation,” Miller wrote. “Nor was it ‘deeply offensive.’”

Schools such as Vero Beach High School are sending the message to students that only some political statements are tolerable. “That’s exactly the wrong message to tell a young man like J.P,” Miller says.

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