About 200 students staged a protest Wednesday outside Huntington High School during their homeroom period over the constitutional protection of the separation of church and state.
The students were protesting a recent evangelical Christian service at the school. The service was supposed to be optional, but some students were forced to attend anyway.
Senior Max Nibert, organized the walkout, saying the service was a violation of his student rights.
“It’s one of the founding tenets of this country that everybody gets to practice what they want to practice,” he said. “And we’re guaranteed a religiously neutral public education experience by the establishment clause.”
He was referring to the clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
According to UScourts.gov, the test for an “establishment of religion” is often governed under the three-part test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).
Under the “Lemon” test, government can assist religion only if (1) the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, (2) the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion, and (3) there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.
Nibert said, moving forward, he would like to have some communication with the school administration and the Cabell County Board of Education.
“They haven’t gotten back to anybody. They were invited to a town hall meeting we’re putting on tonight to discuss the issue,” he said. “The board members declined so it doesn’t seem like they’re open to hearing us out and seeing what we want. I would love to see the possible creation of a policy related to what happened just to make sure this kind of thing never happened again.”
Cabell County Schools spokesperson Jedd Flowers was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he “didn’t believe” an incident like this would happen again. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out for comment, but did not receive a response.