On February 2, 2022, two teachers took their entire classes of students to a religious revival event being held at the school. Parents sued, won, and now the state school system requires religious freedom training.
The issue of religion in public schools has long been a controversial one. It goes all the way back to the founding of the US.
The Bill of Rights
The very first amendment to the Constitution protects, among other things, freedom of religion. That means everyone in the US is free to practice their religion, which might be no religion at all.
Separation of church and state
That means the US Government cannot “establish religion,” a specific term that’s been hashed out in the Supreme Court. Any government policy must have a non-religious purpose, not promote or favor any single religion or set of religious beliefs, and not overly involve the government with any one religion or religion in general.
Separation of church and school
Public schools are run by the government. Therefore, they are also bound by the First Amendment.
What schools can and can’t teach
Public schools are still allowed to teach students about religion. However, they can’t promote any religious beliefs or practices, and students do not have to participate in school activities if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
What happened in West Virginia
In early 2022, an evangelical Christian preacher called Nik Walker had been leading revivals in and around Huntington. Revivals are when Christians gather to encourage each other to experience spiritual awakening and spread their particular version of Christianity.
Revival in a public school
On February 3, Walker held a revival in a public school in Huntington during the school day. The event was hosted by a student organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was publicized as being voluntary.
Not so voluntary for some
However, two teachers apparently didn’t get the “voluntary” part of the announcement. They brought their entire classes to the revival.
Welcome to the revival
The revival included students and families, who were encouraged to head to a nearby church later to be baptized. Students were warned about facing “eternal torment” if they didn’t follow the Bible.
Violation after violation
Speakers asked students to give their lives to Jesus to attain salvation. Students were also instructed to raise their arms in prayer.
No leaving the revival
Some students asked to leave but were not allowed. Among those who were not permitted to leave was a Jewish student.
In protest, more than 100 students staged a walkout. They carried signs and chanted slogans advocating for the separation of church and state. “My faith, my choice,” was one chant.
Things get legal
After the walkout, four families sued the local school district. They accused the area of systematically promoting Christian religious practices.
School policies get a revival
As a result of the lawsuit, the state school board strengthened an existing policy on religious freedom. It also added an annual training requirement to “safeguard against the occurrence of similar instances in the future,” according to the lawyer for the board.
Additionally, each of the four families that launched the suit will receive up to $1 from the district. Getting money wasn’t the aim of the suit, though. Instead, according to the father of one student forced to attend the revival, the suit succeeded in its objective of instituting “meaningful policy changes … to ensure that what happened in Cabell public schools in February 2022 will not occur again.”
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