The Freedom From Religion Foundation has secured a constitutional win for families in a West Virginia school district whose students were subjected to a religious revival.
Four families in Huntington, W.Va., have settled their lawsuit against the Cabell County Board of Education after it agreed to significant changes in policy that would prevent future such violations. The parties jointly dismissed the lawsuit today after settling. The board also agreed to settle up for $1 in nominal damages to each plaintiff and nearly $175,000 in attorney fees, which were paid by the board’s insurer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed the lawsuit on behalf of parents and students against the board over a Christian revival held at Huntington High School on Feb. 2 of last year. “We are pleased with the result of the lawsuit and are confident that other students will not have to endure similar problems in the future,” says 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 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. In response to the revival, more than 100 students participated in a walkout in protest one week later. This was led by a former student and named plaintiff, Max Nibert.
This lawsuit challenged not only a revival event held at the school but the school system’s history of disregarding the religious freedom of its students and promotion of Christian religious practices. The plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint asserted that they “seek significant policy changes, training of employees, and supervision of employees in order to protect the constitutional rights of Cabell County Schools’ students.”
As part of a settlement, the board agreed to amend its policies relating to religion in schools. The board voted on Oct. 17 to adopt the policy revisions. Significantly, those changes require annual training of teachers about religion in school. School administrators also are tasked with greater monitoring of school events. Finally, the policy provides greater detail to ensure that employees do not initiate or lead students in religious activities.
Herman Mays, who is the father of one of the students forced to attend the revival, says, “This settlement with the Cabell County Board of Education enacts meaningful policy changes and enforcement and training for staff and teachers on their constitutional responsibilities to ensure that what happened in Cabell public schools in February 2022 will not occur again.”
FFRF is awarding $2,000 scholarships to six of the student participants in the case in honor of their activism. Former student Max Nibert previously was awarded an activist award in 2022.
The plaintiffs were represented by attorney Marcus Schneider, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and local counsel Kristina Thomas Whiteaker.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including in West Virginia. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.