(Pictured: Max Nibert, lead plaintiff, at the recent Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in San Antonio)
A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that families in Huntington, W. Va., can proceed with their lawsuit against a school district for hosting a religious revival during the school day. The Freedom From Religion Foundation represents the group of students and parents, who filed suit in February.
U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers issued a decision saying that the plaintiffs properly alleged violations of their First Amendment rights by the Cabell County Board of Education (BOE) and two school system employees.
“Plaintiffs clearly allege that the BOE has a long-standing custom and practice of allowing staff and outside adults to initiate, lead, and promote evangelical Christianity as part of programming within the schools in the district,” Chambers wrote in his opinion.
Chambers found that the “plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the pervasive and unabated actions of defendants in violation of the Establishment Clause are sufficient to show there is a ‘real and immediate’ risk of repetition that S.F. will be forced to attend other religious events at school.” The judge also determined that at least one of the student plaintiffs, identified by the initials S.F., has standing to bring the lawsuit and to pursue an injunction.
Chambers dismissed claims against school officials that were brought in their “official capacities” because those claims are redundant to claims against the Board of Education. That determination will have little effect on the case as it proceeds.
“We are pleased to see that the court will rule on this egregious religious revival that took place in a public school,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The revival was put on by evangelist Nik Walker, who runs Nik Walker Ministries. Although the event was billed as voluntary, two teachers escorted their entire classes to the revival, where students were instructed to bow their heads in prayer, raise up their hands, and were warned to follow Jesus or face eternal torment.
This revival is not the first time that FFRF has contacted the school system regarding religious entanglement issues. The national state/church watchdog has written several legal complaint letters about adult proselytizing, prayer and religious practices aimed at students within Cabell County Schools. The lawsuit challenges not only the revival event, but also the school system’s history of disregarding the religious freedom of its students and its promotion of Christian religious practices.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Marcus Schneider and Kristina Whiteaker, as well as FFRF attorneys Patrick Elliott, Sam Grover and Christopher Line. This case is in the Southern District of West Virginia District Court with the case number 3:22-cv-00085.