A preacher’s blatant proselytizing at a public high school needs to be halted at once, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a West Virginia school district.
A concerned Hardy County Schools parent has reported to FFRF that students were encouraged to attend a prayer event during the school day. The person in charge of the prayer event, an evangelical preacher, Nik Walker, reportedly told students that if they do not follow the bible they would go to hell. He then asked students to stand up if they accept Jesus and to go to the front of the room to pray.
It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district.
“Allowing evangelical pastors regular, or even one-time, access to proselytize and recruit students for religious activities is a violation of the Establishment Clause,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line writes to Superintendent Sheena Van Meter. “The courts have protected public school students from overreaching outsiders in similar situations.”
A public school promoting Christianity also 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 young adults, FFRF emphasizes. Nonbelieving and non-Christian students feel singled out and intimidated by school-sponsored prayer events like this one.
The school district must immediately investigate this complaint and ensure that Walker is no longer allowed to proselytize students on school property during the school day, FFRF is demanding. It is also making an open records request for any school district contracts and records pertaining to this prayer event and Walker.
“A public school system has no business permitting this hell-and-brimstone preacher and his obvious sermonizing,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Hardy County Schools must immediately make sure that he’s denied further access.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members, including members in West Virginia. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.