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West Virginia school district says students’ rights were violated during religious gathering on campus

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN

Some students’ rights were violated during a revival assembly led by an evangelical preacher at a high school, a West Virginia school district investigating the gathering said in a statement.

Students involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a nonprofit Christian sports ministry, conducted the assembly during a noninstructional homeroom period at Huntington High School in Huntington on February 2.

Student Samuel Felinton, who is Jewish, told CNN that during the meeting Nik Walker, an evangelical preacher, instructed the auditorium to close their eyes, raise their arms in prayer to give their lives over to Jesus for purpose and salvation. Those who didn’t follow the Bible, Walker said, would go to hell when they died, Felinton told CNN.

Students told CNN they were made uncomfortable, confused and angered by the meeting and said they were not given an opportunity to opt out.

“At this point in the investigation, it is my belief that some students’ rights have been violated. As the investigation continues, we must follow due process, which takes some time, in addressing any responsible employee while working to ensure a situation like this never occurs again,” said Ryan S. Saxe, superintendent of Cabell County Schools, in a statement on the district’s website.

“The district honors students’ rights to express their views. The district also respects students’ rights to religious expression. However, forcing religious expression on those with differing beliefs is not acceptable and is not in alignment with district, state, or federal policy and will not be tolerated by my administration or the Board of Education,” the statement said.

Students at the school staged a walkout last week in an attempt to get administrators to hear their concerns.

“These are kids that don’t feel comfortable attending this, you know, kids that might be part of the LGBTQ community, or might be non-Christian or nonreligious as a whole, and they were made to go,” said Max Nibert, a senior at the school who organized the walkout.

In a Saturday statement to CNN, Nik Walker Ministries said Walker’s “vision is to bring hope to a generation through knowing Jesus Christ.”

“We are grateful that this vision is coming to life in not only schools but also churches that have all but lost hope in the world that we live in,” the statement said.

“When the chaos in our society gives birth to division, depression, and hopelessness, we find our hope and peace in Jesus. Many of the students who attend the meetings find the same eternal hope in Him before they leave, as well.”

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CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report.

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