Briana Heaney Published

Cabell County School Board Agrees To Implement Freedom Of Religion Training For Staff

A student holds signs in a protest.
FILE - Huntington High School senior Max Nibert holds signs he plans to use during a walkout students are staging at Huntington High School in Huntington, W.Va. on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. The protest follows an evangelistic Christian revival assembly at the school that some students were mandated by teachers to attend – a violation of students' civil rights, Nibert says. The West Virginia school district has passed a policy banning “proselytizing” or “denigrating” over faith as part of a lawsuit settlement after an evangelical preacher held a religious revival assembly during the school day in 2022 that some students were required to attend.
Leah M. Willingham/AP Photo

The Cabell County Board of Education has settled a lawsuit in an out-of-court agreement with four families who sued over violations of religious freedom. 

In February 2022 two teachers escorted their entire homeroom classes to a sermon by revivalist Nic Walker at the school. They later denied requests by some students to leave. The event was hosted by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and attendance was supposed to be on a voluntary basis. 

In a video recorded by one of the students who was forced to attend the sermon, Walker preached about being punished by God, the importance of meeting God before you die, and asked students to know Jesus.

“You will sit there in that place, apart from God,” Walker said in the video. “And you will remember this service, you’ll remember this moment, you’ll remember this opportunity, where you had this chance, you had to get right. And you’ll be tormented with this memory. Over and over, and over, and over, and it never ends, like it’s eternity.” 

The Cabell County Board of Education agreed to make significant changes in policy that would prevent future First Amendment violations. Subsequently the board announced that it will be mandating religious freedom training for staff. The school also implemented stronger specifications in its policy.  

“The Board of Education has adopted an additional policy which provides for further training to board of education employees to remind them that the board of education and its employees must remain neutral as it pertains to issues of religion, prayer and religious worship. The board of education has implemented the foregoing policy to safeguard against the occurrence of similar instances in the future,” Ashley Stephens from the Cabell County Schools said in an emailed statement.  

The families were represented by the nonprofit organization the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Attorney Patrick Elliot represented the families in the suit. He said that while the school had written policies in place, the school system had a widespread practice of allowing these types of things to happen. This was not the first time a religious event had taken place at the school. 

“I think the good news is, you know, because of how egregious this was, I think people paid attention, and said we can’t allow this in our school,” Elliot said. “I think that was a huge benefit to trying to stop it before it was going into all schools in the state.” 

He said he believes that this new training paired with the schools already sufficient written policies will protect this from happening again. 

“So the way to do that is obviously to make sure that all employees are aware of legally what is required of them when they’re working in their role. And so they can’t, you know, kind of get out of that by saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know’ or ‘it wasn’t clear to me what the school’s policies were’,”

The district’s insurers paid nearly $175,000 in the lawsuit for the plaintiffs attorney fees and $4 to the families. The Freedom From Religion Foundation gave each student plaintiff a $2,000 scholarship.