More than 100 students staged a walkout at their West Virginia high school after an assembly by an evangelical Christian preacher — who told them they’d go to hell if they did not follow the Bible.
Traveling preacher Nik Walker, 25, held a sermon last week at Huntington High School, about 50 miles west of Charleston, where he encouraged pupils to also bring their families to nearby Christ Temple Church.
One 16-year-old student, Cameron Mays, said his class was forced to attend and then close their eyes and raise their arms in prayer. They were also told to give their lives to Jesus and follow the Bible if they wanted to escape hell, he said.
The teen was so alarmed, he said, he texted his dad to ask, “Is this legal?”
Horrified mom Bethany Felinton said her Jewish son was among those forced to attend — with a teacher ordering him to stay, claiming the doors were locked to keep them inside.
“It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in,” Felinton told the Associated Press. “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.”
On Wednesday, more than 100 pupils joined the protest walkout, chanting “My faith, my choice” and pressing the founding basic tenet to “separate the church and state.”
“Just to see that defamed and ignored in such a blatant way, it’s disheartening,” senior Max Nibert said.
Cabell County Schools confirmed the preacher’s event at the school, which was organized by the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
It was supposed to have been voluntary, with a sign-up sheet, but at least two teachers mistakenly brought their entire class, spokesperson Jedd Flowers told the AP.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened,” Flowers said. “We don’t believe it will ever happen again.”
The explanation did not appease the protesters, who insist that the sermon should never have been held on school grounds, whether voluntary or not.
“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,” said Nibert, the senior who spoke to the AP.
Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state, wrote in a letter to the school district that it cannot “allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches.”
“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 letter said.
With Post wires