June 12, 2017

PLF defends student’s First Amendment right to be tongue-in-cheek

VERO BEACH, FL;  June 12, 2017:  Pacific Legal Foundation has sent a formal letter to officials with Vero Beach High School, calling on them to rescind their unwarranted and unconstitutional punishment of PLF’s client, J.P. Krause, for the “offense” of delivering a harmless, tongue-in-cheek speech as a candidate for student body president.

A rising senior, J.P. was encouraged during his Advanced Placement History class to give an impromptu speech in support of his candidacy.  He delivered some lighthearted remarks presenting an obviously fictional, fanciful, and comedic contrast between himself and his opponent.  For instance, he suggested he was the candidate of liberty and building a Trump-like wall between Vero Beach High School and its archrival high school (and making them pay for it); while his opponent favored that rival school, and supported higher taxes to boot.

J.P. went on to win the election, but lost his First Amendment rights.  Without any notice, school officials summarily disqualified him and imposed a detention, on the grounds that his speech somehow violated the school’s anti-harassment policy.  This punishment also goes on his record.

“On J.P.’s behalf, PLF has written to school officials calling on them to withdraw their unjustified punishment, because their actions fly in the face of common sense — and the Constitution,” said Mark Miller, managing attorney with PLF’s Atlantic Center office in Palm Beach Gardens.  “J.P’s speech was a 17-year-old’s innocent attempt at some broad, hyperbolic humor.  It was harmless precisely because everything he said was clearly tongue-in-cheek.

“J.P. was literally blindsided by school officials’ decision to punish him.  He and his family were shocked, not just because the punishment came out of the blue — without any notice, warning, or opportunity for him to be heard — but because he did absolutely nothing wrong and had no reason to expect to hear anything at all from school officials.

“Our letter reminds officials at Vero Beach High School that the First Amendment’s protections do not stop at the schoolhouse door,” Miller continued.  “J.P.’s comedic speech in no way disrupted school activities or the orderly administration of the school. Therefore, it is protected by the Constitution’s guarantees for freedom of speech.  Moreover, the school violated his due process rights by failing to inform him of the discipline or provide him with a right of appeal.”

As J.P. said in an interview with Fox & Friends this past weekend, he had no intention of harassing anyone with his comedic campaign speech.  “I never thought the speech would ever evolve in what it has become, really,” he said.  “It was completely a joke from the beginning and completely satirical.”

Even panelists on ABC’s “The View” weighed in for J.P. this morning.

“Have we lost our sense of humor?” asked Whoopi Goldberg, who was clearly sympathetic to his plight and the importance of defending First Amendment freedoms.  “He was doing a typical comedy thing,” responded host Joy Behar.  “You take what’s in the zeitgeist [in this case, Trump and his rhetoric about the wall], and you put it in another situation.”  “The idea that a kid running for office in a school can’t make a joke — that puts us in a scary place,” added Jedediah Bila.

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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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