Over 100 students walked out of a West Virginia high school this week calling for “separation of church and state” after two teachers took their classes to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes assembly during an in-school, non-instructional period that was supposed to be voluntary.
Students at Huntington High School in Cabell County left classrooms Wednesday during a non-instructional period called COMPAS to protest an Evangelical Christian revival assembly held on Feb. 2.
Jedd Flowers, Cabell County Schools director of communications, told The Christian Post that the assembly organized by students affiliated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club.
Although student attendance was voluntary and there was a sign-up process so teachers would know which students would attend, Flowers said two teachers “mistakenly took their entire class to the assembly.”
“Those teachers have been corrected and the district does not anticipate a similar issue in the future,” Flowers said.
However, some students claim they had no choice but to attend the revival event, saying that they were asked to pray and if they wanted to give their lives to Jesus Christ. The event drew pushback from secular legal organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a demand letter last Friday claiming that students were told if they didn’t accept Jesus, they could go to Hell.
The letter stated that evangelist Nik Walker, 25, was invited to preach during the event. Students were encouraged to attend Walker’s church, Christ Temple Church.
The FFRF says that many teachers and the principal attended the event.
The 67-year-old Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a national evangelistic ministry found on high schools and college campuses nationwide.
CP asked FCA for comments but didn’t receive any details on the organization’s relationship with students at Huntington High School. The organization assured that their events are voluntary.
“All are welcome to participate in Fellowship of Christian Athletes activities and events. One way that FCA shows all individuals respect is by welcoming all people to FCA events on a voluntary basis,” a statement reads. “Coaches, athletes and students are free to choose or deny participation in any FCA event.”
On Feb. 2, the 25-year-old Walker posted on his Facebook page that around 50 students had given their lives to Christ at voluntary club meetings at Boyd County High School and Huntington High School. Walker of Nik Walker Ministries has spearheaded revivals in the Huntington area.
FFRF, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state, contends the event violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Sixteen-year-old Cameron Mays shared his experience withthe Associated Press, alleging that he had no choice but to listen to the instruction of his teacher and attend the event. He asked his father if the event was legal.
“They can’t just play this game of, you know, ‘We’re going to choose this time as wiggle room, this gray area where we believe we can insert a church service,’” Mays’ father, Herman Mays, was quoted as saying.
During the protest, senior Max Nibert held a sign that read: “My rights are non-negotiable.”
“I don’t think any kind of religious official should be hosted in a taxpayer-funded building with the express purpose of trying to convince minors to become baptized after school hours,” Nibert added.
In an interview with AP, Nibert said he and the protesters would like to see "some kind of disciplinary action taken against the teachers that forced their students to attend."
Parent Bethany Felington told AP that her Jewish son attended the rally because he didn’t want to disobey his teacher and was told that the classroom door was locked and he couldn’t leave.
“It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in,” Felington said. “I’m not knocking their faith, but there’s a time and place for everything — and in public schools, during the school day, is not the time and place.”
Walker told AP he did not contact the school, but rather students requested him to attend the event to preach. During the FCA assemblies, he said, students are often encouraged to attend church at a local house of worship.
Walker claimed that 200 students had been baptized at the church.
“We don’t even have to knock on the door,” Walker said. “The students, they receive hope here (at Christ Temple Church) and then they want to bring hope to their school or to their classmates.”