Between calculus and European history classes at a West Virginia public high school, 16-year-old Cameron Mays and his classmates were told by their teacher to go to an evangelical Christian revival assembly. When students arrived at the event in the school's auditorium, they were instructed to close their eyes and raise their arms in prayer, Mays said. The teens were asked to give their lives over to Jesus to find purpose and salvation. Those who didn't follow the Bible would go to hell when they died, they were told. The Huntington High School junior sent a text to his father. "Is this legal?" he asked. The answer, according to the US Constitution, is no.
The AP reports Huntington students planned to stage a walkout during their homeroom period Wednesday to protest the assembly. School security turned away reporters who tried to cover the demonstration. The mini-revival took place last week during COMPASS, a daily "noninstructional" break in the schedule during which students can study for tests, work on college prep, or listen to guest speakers, said Cabell County Schools spokesperson Jedd Flowers. Flowers said the event was voluntary, organized by the school's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He said there was supposed to be a sign-up sheet for students, but two teachers mistakenly brought their entire class.
"It's unfortunate that it happened," Flowers said. "We don't believe it will ever happen again." But in this community of fewer than 50,000 people in southwestern West Virginia, the controversy has ignited a broader conversation about whether religious services—voluntary or not—should be allowed during school hours at all. A group of parents, the ACLU of West Virginia, and other organizations say the answer is no, that such events are a clear violation of students' civil rights. "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," Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state, wrote in a letter to the school district. (The AP has much more.)