Summary:

A Jewish student was one of a group of kids who found themselves trapped in a Christian revival at a public school in West Virginia

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Charisma News is desperately trying to put a positive spin on a row that broke out after a 25-year-old preacher—Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries, above—infiltrated the Huntington public high school earlier this month and threatened a captive audience with hellfire.

Reporting on the alleged success that Walker has been having in capturing souls for Jesus in the Huntington area in recent weeks, the magazine, aimed at Pentecostals and charismatics, sought to downplay the outrage that followed the event:

The only pushback he has received was when he went to Huntington High School. Some students were upset that they were ‘forced’ to attend the assembly. But that was unintentional, and it was a misunderstanding by a couple of the teachers at the school. The West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation chimed in, but the foundation of their claims is unsubstantiated.

The magazine quoted Walker as saying:

We weren’t there to break the law … It’s unfortunate how things went down at Huntington High. That was not the intention or the goal of the ministry. It was only to bring Jesus to the students who wanted to be there.

He also insisted that he only enters premises into which his is invited, an excuse used by vampires whenever they sink their fangs into the necks of their victims.

Religion News Service suggests that Walker was being disingenuous when he claimed that the pupils he preached to in the school’s auditorium were there because they wanted to be. Cameron Mays, 16, and his classmates, according to RNS, were ordered by their teacher to attend the religious revival assembly.

When students arrived at the event in the school’s auditorium, they were instructed to close their eyes and raise their arms in prayer, Mays said. The teens were asked to give their lives over to Jesus to find purpose and salvation. Those who did not follow the Bible would go to hell when they died, they were told.

Bethany Felinton said her Jewish son was one of the students forced to attend the assembly. She said he felt he couldn’t disobey his teacher:

It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in. 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.

Image via YouTube

The school found itself in an embattled situation after one senior student, Max Nibert, above, not only questioned the legality of the gathering, but led a protest of between 150 and 200 students who left their classrooms chanting, “Separate the church and state” and, “My faith, my choice.”

School security turned away reporters who tried to cover the demonstration.

Nibert said:

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.

During the walkout, he held a sign reading, “My rights are non-negotiable.”

Image via Cabell County Schools

Cabell County Schools spokesperson Jedd Flowers, above, said the event was voluntary, organized by the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He said there was supposed to be a signup sheet for students, but two teachers mistakenly brought their entire class.

It’s unfortunate that it happened. We don’t believe it will ever happen again.

A group of parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and other organizations were among those who slammed the decision to invite this spiritual bloodsucker in.

FFRF praised Nibert in a statement, saying he was “completely on the right track” by staging the walkout.

“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,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Cabell County Schools’ legal counsel. “No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors—a captive audience—in a public school.”

In addition to requesting contracts and correspondence between the ministry and the school, the organization has asked the school district to investigate the incident and ensure that Walker and other religious leaders are not permitted to proselytize students on school property during the school day.
 
When a school allows church representatives to recruit students for the church, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message — in this case, a Christian message, FFRF emphasized. This practice alienates those non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being disseminated by the school, including the 38 percent of millennials who are nonreligious.
 
FFRF said it had received many complaints from students and parents in Cabell County Schools over the past five years. In 2017, the district held two religious assemblies for students under remarkably similar circumstances to this religious revival.

One teacher even required his class to attend. The superintendent at the time noted that the district would take steps to ensure this would not recur, but FFRF has continued to learn of violations in the district.

Just last year, FFRF wrote to the district after a middle school teacher went on a three-minute rant where she taught from the Bible, expressed disgust that some students don’t believe in God, and denigrated non-Christians by implying they are not, and cannot, be brought up with “morals and values.” 

Nibert and his like-minded schoolmates are putting themselves on the line in defense of minority rights and our Constitution – and they have FFRF’s full support.

Said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

It is thrilling to see so many students standing up for their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. There’s an ironic role reversal here since students are the ones teaching the correct lessons to the school authorities.

Meanwhile, Nibert wrote on his Facebook page:

I am incredibly touched by the sheer number of students that attended the walkout (150-200 by my own estimate). The passion shown Wednesday morning [February 9] was a welcome surprise. To my peers, and everyone who has messaged, commented, shared, or just silently supported, my thanks will never be enough.

Nibert then directed his followers to a petition that slams Flowers’ response to the religious revival.

As the group most harmed by the negligent actions of certain individual teachers and the Board of Education, we find this response completely unacceptable.

The petition points out that:

There is now conjecture that Walker was not even invited, as was previously claimed, by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes … That day, several teachers forced their students to attend this already impermissible school-sponsored religious service.

This is a clear and inexcusable violation of our rights as students and as Americans; we are guaranteed a religiously neutral public education experience by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The petition then offers suggestions as to what may help make the situation right, from the perspective of a student. They include:

• An in-depth statement and apology from the Cabell County Board of Education.

• Review/creation of a Board policy by its members about religion and religiously motivated speakers in our schools. This policy should set the precedent for related offenses and corresponding punishment in the future.

• Formal discipline against any teacher that made attendance of the sermon compulsory.

Imagine how quickly the likes of Walker would be cut down to size, not by a whiff of garlic, but by more young people like Nibert—and parents such as Bethany Felinton—demonstrating the courage to challenge the arrogance of preachers who believe that they can lie with impunity, and that no doors should ever be closed to them.


Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....