West Virginia School District Sued For Forcing Students To Attend Religious Assembly During School Hours

Civil Rights Policy Brief #183 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | March 2, 2022

Header photo taken from: NPR




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Students at Huntington High School in West Virginia staged a protest on Wednesday, Feb. 9, to protest a Christian assembly some said they were forced to attend.

Photo taken from: The News & Observer

Policy Summary

On February 2, 2022 two homeroom classrooms at Huntington High School in the Cabell County School District in southwestern West Virginia were brought to a school assembly. The assembly was hosted by Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries. Nik Walker is an evangelical preacher and his group had been hosting revival events in the area with the purpose of exposing persons to Jesus Christ and Christianity.

Two of the teachers who escorted their homeroom class to the assembly told their class that they were required to attend. The homeroom classes were brought over but when one student who did not feel comfortable attending the event asked to leave, he was told that the room was locked. At the event, Nik Walker encouraged the students to pray with him by sending adults into the crowd to lead the students in prayer and admonished the students “to follow Jesus or face eternal torment.”

Approximately one week later, more than one hundred students staged a walkout during school hours to protest their required attendance at the Nik Walker Ministries event. In addition to the walkout, many of the students signed a petition seeking an apology from the West Virginia Board of Education.

Later a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on behalf of a number of families whose students were coerced into attending the evangelical revival event. The lawsuit was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and seeks a permanent injunction barring the Cabell County School District from sponsoring any religious worship services, adult led religious activities during the school day or participation of students in such events during school hours.

Policy Analysis

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and the Supreme Court has applied this law to public schools in a variety of scenarios. Classroom scripture readings and prayers were found to be in violation of the First Amendment as well as moments of silence to pray at the beginning of classes, the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and the requirement to teach “creationism” in schools. 

The overall principle of many of these decisions as it relates to public schools is that the First Amendment of the Constitution forbids schools from endorsing a religious position or any religious faith as part of a student’s school day.

During the student led walkout to protest the religious assembly held on campus students chanted, “Separate the church and state” and “My faith, my choice.” Based on what happened at Huntington High School on February 2nd it is clear that the teachers and the high school erred by requiring their students to attend the Christian revival assembly during school hours. But while some are trying to argue that this is merely a one – time honest mistake that won’t happen again, the history of the Cabell County School District shows that this school district has a history of trying to use school assemblies to force religious expression on students and of trying to coerce them to accept Christian thoughts and values.

In 2017 the Cabell County School District was notified about hosting two religious assemblies at Huntington High School during school hours. And in 2019 the school district was again notified because parents discovered that adult led religious clubs were being run in district schools during school hours. 

Evangelical preacher Nik Walker talks to high school kids during assembly at the Huntington High School; Students from the school plan to stage a walkout after they say they were made to attend the Christian assembly during school hours.

Photo taken from: News Observer (.com)

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Both notices were seemingly ignored by the Cabell County School District with no record of whether any action had been taken to prohibit those and similar activities in the future. 

The Cabell County School District’s tolerance of religious activities during school hours instead appears to be a systematic effort to ignore the commands of the Constitution and try to impose religious teachings and host religious themed activities in their school district. But the law is the law and they cannot continue with this pattern of behavior at schools in the district.  

The problem is that the school district is obviously taking a position by saying Christianity is the only accepted faith that should be followed. And they are pushing this position during school hours on young minds that might be forced to accept.

The permanent injunction asked for in the lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation can help to try and stem the incidents that have been going on in the district and can send the message that public school students should not be coerced into listening or adopting unwanted Christian viewpoints during school hours. LEARN MORELEARN MORELEARN MORE

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

FFRF logo teal

Freedom From Religion Foundation – non – profit group webpage about the lawsuit they brought on behalf of Huntington High School families and their work advocating for the separation of church and state.

ACLU logo

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – quick info bulletin on public schools and religion and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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