We have yet another situation where a public school brought in an evangelist to give a sermon during a school assembly, something clearly unconstitutional. American Atheists got after the school about it and the administration says they are now reviewing their policies.
Principal J. Wayne Shepherd of the West Wilkes High School in Wilkes, North Carolina, has agreed to review the restrictions about religious activities at the public high school and the policy of distribution of non-school sponsored literature to students after American Atheists sent a letter of concern about a religious assembly held on October 15 at the school. Many students were forced to attend the assembly instead of their regular classes.
American Atheists, headquartered in New Jersey, is a national atheist civil rights organization that advocates for the constitutional principle of the separation of religion and government. The nonprofit has six affiliate groups in North Carolina, including one in nearby Hickory.
The assembly featured Otis Duhart, a former Florida State Seminoles football player and evangelist, who spoke to the students about his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s suicide, and called all of the students “sinners.” The 30-plus minute sermon included Duhart raising his voice loudly at the students and telling them to accept the salvation of Christ. At the end of the sermon, Duhart led the students in prayer. Duhart then distributed flyers to the students inviting them to a religious youth rally at a local church on October 18.“Mr. Duhart’s presentation amounted to a church service during class time,” said Amanda Knief, American Atheists’ managing director and in-house counsel. “He evangelized to a captive audience and there was no educational purpose for the presentation other than to promote Christianity. It was a clear violation of the Establishment Clause for the school to sponsor Mr. Duhart’s presentation.”
This sort of thing happens all the time, all over the country. It’s tempting to wonder why on earth they think they can get away with it, but the reason is obvious: Unless someone complains, and that’s pretty rare given both the ubiquity of Christianity in many parts of the country and the risk a non-Christian faces if they raise a stink about it.