Thousands of public school students across the country walked out of their classrooms this spring on multiple occasions to protest immigration enforcement proposals in Congress. Few were punished. In many cases, teachers and school officials encouraged their political activities.
Why didn't you hear about students organizing counter-demonstrations on behalf of strengthened borders?
Here's a clue:
The public interest firm of Lively, Ackerman & Cowles
(www.LivelyAckerman.com) filed suit on behalf of Jurupa Valley High School
student Joshua Denhalter late last week. The First Amendment suit alleges that
the public high school has intentionally interfered with his right to speak out
on the issue of illegal immigration. Case Number RIC450811 was filed in
Riverside County Superior Court.
Mr. Denhalter alleges that on March 27,
2006, dozens of high school students, mostly of Mexican-American descent,
illegally walked out of school in protest of legislation that was being proposed
by the U.S. Congress (HR4437) concerning illegal immigration. He was not one of
these students and chose to act lawfully.
Instead of illegally walking out of
school and being truant, Denhalter chose to organize a legitimate and lawful
counter-protest/assembly during the lunch hour on or about March 30, 2006. The
peaceable assembly was to take place across from the school on a public sidewalk
(i.e., a traditional public forum).
The peaceable assembly would not have
disrupted school activities because Jurupa Valley High School has an “open
lunch” period. This means that students are free to come and go during this
time. As such, any student could have “walked out” during the lunch to attend
the assembly and there would be no disruption or violation of truancy
On the morning of March 30, 2006, Denhalter began handing out flyers
for his event. That same morning, around 7:30 AM, he was approached by school
officials and told that he could not hand out flyers advertising his First
Amendment protected activities. He refused to give up his right to pass out
handbills/flyers. As a result of his refusal to give up his constitutional
rights, Denhalter was suspended for “handing out flyers (before school)
advocating the disruption of school activities”. However, the school did not
punish the dozens of students who walked out in violation of the law several
Furthermore, between March 27 and March 30, 2006, the school
allowed MECHA to sponsor an on-campus rally in opposition to HR4437. Denhalter
asked for permission to sponsor a similar counter-rally on campus but was flatly
denied by the school district's board.
Finally, just the week before filing
of this complaint, on May 25, 2006, the school prohibited Denhalter from wearing
a “Save Our State” t-shirt by telling him that he needed to turn the shirt
inside out and not ever wear it again. The content of the political speech set
forth on the shirt was the sole basis for this censorship and prior restraint of
Denhalter’s rights. He seeks a restraining order allowing him to express himself
freely as to political matters until the end of the school year (i.e., June 21,
According to lead attorney Richard D. Ackerman, “This is one of the
worst governmental censorship cases I have seen in over a decade of practice. It
is simply unbelievable that a school district would take sides with those who
promote illegal activity over a student wishing to express his protected views
in a traditionally and legally acceptable manner. These officials must be
severely punished for their actions.” The law firm is handling this matter on a
pro bono basis. The firm says that temporary restraining orders will be sought
against the school within the next ten days.
Donations are being taken for
Denhalter's legal costs through the donation link at www.profamilylawcenter.com.
Those interested in helping this young man can designate the money to be used
for the "Josh Denhalter First Amendment Fund." Tax deductible donations will
only be used to assist in his and related First Amendment cases. Mr. Denhalter
is going to boot camp five days after graduating from Jurupa Valley High School
and cannot afford the costs of this litigation.
Background, photos, and video at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.