A walkout was just the beginning for some students at Huntington High School in West Virginia who say they were forced to listen to an evangelical preacher during school hours. Now 11 families, with help from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), are suing the school district, superintendent, and principal in federal court. The goal is a permanent injunction against such religious activities, which reportedly have occurred before in district schools.
As ChurchLeaders reported, about 100 students at Huntington High School walked out of classes earlier this month, protesting the student-led religious assembly. A school-district spokesperson explained that two teachers didn’t realize the event was voluntary and accidentally took their entire homeroom classes—including some Jewish students—to listen to Nik Walker.
The 25-year-old evangelist, described as a “Perry Stone protégé,” says he’s on a mission to bring the hope of Jesus to a generation who needs it. Walker insists he speaks at schools only at the request of students—in this case, by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter.
Huntington High School: FFRF Says the Problem Runs Deeper
FFRF attorney Chris Line takes issue with the district’s explanation—and also with its history. “It sounds like the district believes the only problem is that two classes were forced to attend this religious revival, when the problem is there should not have been a religious revival at the school in the first place,” he says.
Line adds that it’s insufficient to take the district’s word that a similar incident won’t occur again. “In the past, they’ve had all these different incidents, and they’ve said they’re going to take care of it, and we keep seeing these problems crop up,” the attorney says.
Complaints about religious assemblies and clubs were lodged against the Cabell County School district in 2017 and 2019. “For years, school system employees have violated the constitutional rights of students by promoting and advancing the Christian religion, as well as by coercing students into participating in Christian religious activity,” states the lawsuit.
It requests a permanent injunction against such events and activities, saying they violate students’ First Amendment rights. By seeking just $1 in damages for each plaintiff, the FFRF and families say they’re focusing on changing policy, not on seeking a payday.
High School Senior Leads Walkout, Rallies Support
Most plaintiffs in the lawsuit aren’t identified, with the exception of Max Nibert. The Huntington High senior led the February 9 walkout, encouraged people to sign an online petition, and then joined the federal lawsuit.