Students Walk Out After Teachers Sent Them to Christian Event During Class

Students at a West Virginia high school were set to walk out Wednesday morning after they were sent to an evangelical Christian revival assembly during school hours.

The walkout will happen during the homeroom period at Huntington High School. The protesting students said they were forced to attend an event held by the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, according to the Associated Press. At the assembly, students heard a sermon by 25-year-old preacher Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries.

Under the Constitution's First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," often interpreted as separating church and state. This separation extends to public schools, which can legally hold religious activities if they are held within noninstructional hours. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes assembly was held during such hours, although student attendance at such events is normally voluntary.

During the assembly, students were encouraged to attend services at the nearby Christ Temple Church, where over 200 students were baptized. But some students said that one message heard during the event was that all nonbelievers would go to hell and that they needed to give their lives to God for salvation, according to the AP. Some students who expressed discomfort with the messaging were prohibited from leaving the sermon until it ended.

WV Sermon
Students from a West Virginia high school were planning to stage a walkout Wednesday after they say they were made to attend a Christian assembly during school hours. Above, an image taken from a cellphone video shows evangelical preacher Nik Walker, second from left, talking to high school students during the assembly at the Huntington High School on February 2. Cameron Mays via AP

"It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the District to offer religious leaders unique access to preach and proselytize students during school hours on school property," wrote the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation in a letter to the school board.

"It's a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in," said Bethany Felinton, whose Jewish son attempted to leave the event but was told no by his teacher, the AP reported. "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."

However, some local students said such gatherings during school hours were beneficial. Nik Walker Ministries has previously held meetings in other schools, which some students said they look forward to. Some of these meetings have resulted in increased youth attendance in churches.

"It's awesome to see a lot of young kids coming," Tolsia High School freshman Mckenzie Cassell told the AP.

Newsweek reached out to Nik Walker Ministries, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Cabell County schools superintendent, Ryan Saxe, for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Update 02/09/2022, 9:52 a.m. ET: This story was updated with more background and information.