CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia school district has adopted a policy requiring annual religious freedom training as part of a lawsuit settlement after an evangelical preacher held a revival assembly during the school day in 2022 during which some students were required to attend.
As part of a settlement finalized Thursday, the Cabell County School Board’s policy makes clear that it “is not the role of a public school to inhibit or promote religious beliefs or practices,” the school said. attorney for the board, Brian D. Morrison, in a statement. to the Associated Press.
“Students must remain free to voluntarily express their individual religious beliefs, or lack thereof, as each student sees fit,” Morrison said.
Four families from Huntington, West Virginia’s second-largest city, sued the district in February 2022, accusing the state’s southwest school system of having a systematic history of disregarding the religious freedom of its students. students and the establishment of Christian religious practices.
The lawsuit says two Huntington High School teachers escorted their entire homeroom classes to an assembly organized by evangelical preacher Nik Walker, who had led revivals in the Huntington area in recent weeks.
The students, including a Jewish student who asked to leave but was not allowed to do so, were told to close their eyes and raise their arms in prayer, according to the lawsuit. The teens were asked to give their lives to Jesus to find purpose and salvation. The students said they were told that those who did not follow the Bible “would face eternal torment.”
During the assemblies, students and their families were encouraged to join evening services at a nearby church, where they could be baptized. The lawsuit followed a walkout at Huntington High School where more than 100 students walked out of their classrooms chanting “Separate church and state” and “My faith, my choice.”
Morrison said the event was advertised in school announcements as a voluntary event hosted by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a student organization. The two teachers who brought their entire class “were either confused or misunderstood,” he said.
He said the school board already has a policy in place on religious freedom at school, but it now includes stronger language, a training requirement and other additions as a “guarantee against the occurrence of cases similar in the future.
Morrison said the issue has been resolved and the board has “no further comment on this matter at this time.”
The policy requires the district superintendent and principals to “make a good faith effort” to monitor school-sponsored activities to ensure compliance with the policy. Principals must report potential violations to the superintendent within seven days of discovery. The superintendent is “authorized to investigate and take corrective action,” according to the policy.
As part of the settlement, the families will also receive up to $1 each from the district, and each student plaintiff will receive a $2,000 scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nonprofit organization that represented them before the court. Nearly $175,000 in attorney fees were paid by the board’s insurer.
Herman Mays, the father of a student forced to attend the resumption, said the agreement resulted in “significant policy changes, enforcement and training of staff and teachers on their constitutional responsibilities to ensure that this What happened in Cabell Public Schools in February 2022 will not happen again.” Again.”