More than 100 students from Huntington Senior High School—a public high school in West Virginia—participated in a walkout after being forced by teachers to attend a Christian revival assembly that took place on school grounds.
16-year-old Cameron Mays told The Associated Press he and his classmates were instructed to attend an assembly, which turned out to be a Christian revival meeting.
CBS affiliate WOWK 13 News reported on the story.
The meeting was hosted by 25-year-old Evangelical preacher Nik Walker, who has been leading Christian revival meetings in the Huntington area for over two weeks, often encouraging people to attend services and eventually be baptized at the area's Christ Temple Church.
All of the students in the auditorium were told to close their eyes, raise their hands and "give their lives over to Jesus." They were told all those who didn't follow the scripture would go to hell after they died.
Video footage from the assembly was captured by a student in attendance.
Confused by what he was witnessing, Mays texted his father Herman L. Mays Jr. a video of the meeting, telling him everything he was witnessing and asking him "is this legal?"
The answer is of course no, something Huntington High senior Max Nibert was quick to point out.
"The separation of church and state and religious freedom as a concept are founding basic tenants of this country."
"Just to see that defamed and ignored in such a blatant way, it’s disheartening."
Equally shocked by what he was seeing, Mays father told his son he would call his principal about this, only for his son to reply a few moments later and tell him the principal was in attendance at the meeting.
The meeting reportedly took place during a period during the school day known as COMPASS, time meant to be used by the students to either study or attend assemblies with guest speakers.
Jedd Flowers, a spokesperson for Cabell County Schools said the meeting, organized by the school's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was meant to be voluntary but two teachers brought their entire classes.
"It’s unfortunate that it happened, we don’t believe it will ever happen again."
But as Mays Jr. told WOWK 13 News, several students were told by their teachers they could not leave the assembly.These students included the son of Bethany Felinton—who is Jewish. After he told his teacher he was uncomfortable and asked to return to his classroom, he was told the classroom door was locked and he had to stay, much to Felinton's horror.
"It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in."
“I’m not knocking their faith, but there’s a time and place for everything — and in public schools, during the school day, is not the time and place."
In protest of the assembly, Nibert and his classmates staged a walkout, joined by over 100 other Huntington High School students, leaving their classrooms en masse and chanting the likes of "Separate the church and state" and "My faith, my choice."
While reporters and the press who tried to cover the walkout were turned away, a video taken by a student was subsequently shared with The Associated Press.
Nibert was captured at the entrance to the school, declaring he was "never prouder of a group of my peers than I am right now”, and holding a sign saying "my rights are non-negotiable".
"I don’t think any kind of religious official should be hosted in a taxpayer-funded building with the express purpose of trying to convince minors to become baptized after school hours."
Nibert and his fellow students were greeted by cheers from Twitter users as their story became more widely known.
Nibert also passed around a petition at the walkout, signed by roughly 75 of students, asking the Cabell County Board of Education to apologize to all the families over what transpired and for disciplinary action to be taken against the teachers who forced their students to attend.
In addition, the petition called for a new board policy surrounding any future speaker or assembly at the school which was religiously motivated.
WOWK 13 News reported a spokesperson for the Cabell County Board of Education has "corrected" the teachers who forced their students to attend the assembly, though they did not specify exactly what the "correction" was.
The day after the assembly, Mays' teacher did offer an apology to her class, which Mays recorded and shared with The Associated Press.
"I want to apologize to you when we went to the auditorium yesterday."
"I was not familiar with the people associated with Christian athletes, I thought they would be discussing choices and goals with you."
"I should have had us leave, but I did not want to be rude."
However, Mays father didn't buy the apology, telling The Associated Press the teacher in question participated in the assembly as if she were at a church service, not appearing to find anything wrong at the time.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit promoting the separation of church and state, told WOWK 13 News two similar instances like this happened at Huntington High school in 2017, prompting them to write a letter to the school district following Nik Walker's visit.
"It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the District to offer religious leaders unique access to preach and proselytize students during school hours on school property."
"[The school district] allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches."
Walker, who claims to have seen a lot of "hopelessness" in the Huntington area, has more revival meetings planned at local public schools as well as Marshall University.