FFRF gets W. Va. school district to change its rules

A West Virginia school district changed its policies after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to a Christian revival meeting held at one of its schools.

Evangelist Matt Hartley sermonized to students at Mingo Central High School in Williamson, W.Va., on Wednesday, April 13, preaching to them about Jesus, mulling about whether being gay was a choice, and asserting that “God never made a mistake” in choosing a person’s gender. FFRF contacted the school district after receiving a complaint.

A public school assembly with a religious message confers endorsement of that speaker’s message, FFRF contended. In addition, Hartley’s negative opinions about gay and transgender students could lead to bullying, FFRF pointed out.

“This type of event is blatantly unconstitutional,” FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Mingo County Schools Superintendent Robert Bobbera. “Promotion of religion as part of a school assembly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” 

The school district quickly informed FFRF that it was revamping its policies governing such events.

“Steps have already been taken by the superintendent to ensure that such events will not occur in the future and that all staff are educated regarding the legal obligations of school systems when such issues arise,” Denise Spatafore, legal counsel for Mingo County Schools, wrote back to Elliott. A new circular “is being distributed to all school administrators, and a training session for all staff on the same subject matter will be provided to you following completion. Also, the principal of Mingo Central has been individually counseled about the event that occurred at her school.” 

Hartley had also reportedly conducted meetings in the school on April 14 and 15 and led a revival on the school athletic field on the following Saturday, April 16.

FFRF appreciates the swift way with which the school district dealt with the issue and wants it to serve as a lesson to other districts in the region, especially since Hartley is apparently making appearances at various schools in the area.

“Public schools need to know that hosting a person such as Hartley is a serious breach of constitutional norms,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’ll be watching to make sure that what occurred at Mingo Central High School doesn’t happen again.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization that has 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including in West Virginia.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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