December 2023 Church & State Magazine - December 2023

W. Va. public school settles lawsuit over hosting of religious revival

 

A West Virginia public school district has agreed to pay nearly $175,000 in attorneys’ fees to settle a lawsuit brought by parents who opposed their children being taken to a religious revival.

The parents were represented in court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which announced the settlement on Oct. 26.

The religious event took place at Huntington High School on Feb. 2, 2022. It was hosted by an evangelist named Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries. School officials insisted that the event was voluntary, but students reported that two teachers escorted their classes to the revival. Once there, FFRF reported, students were told to “bow their heads in prayer, raise up their hands, and were warned to follow Jesus or face eternal torment.”

Some students were so upset that they walked out of school in protest a week after the event. The student who led the protest, Max Nibert, later served as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. (Nibert has since graduated.)

FFRF reported that the revival was part of a pattern of promotion of Christianity by the Cabell County school system. As part of a settlement, the school board adopted new policies that, according to FFRF, “require annual training of teachers about religion in school. School administrators also are tasked with greater monitoring of school events. Finally, the policy provides greater detail to ensure that employees do not initiate or lead students in religious activities.”

Herman Mays, a father whose child was compelled to attend the revival and filed suit accordingly, observed, “This settlement with the Cabell County Board of Education enacts meaningful policy changes and enforcement and training for staff and teachers on their constitutional responsibilities to ensure that what happened in Cabell public schools in February 2022 will not occur again.” (Mays v. Cabell County Board of Education)

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