UPDATE: GenerationNXT releases statement on controversy involving Wood County Schools

By  | 

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Update: 11/30/2018 5:20 P.M.

Cropped Photo: Steven Depolo / CC BY 2.0

GenerationNXT, the organization at the heart of a protest aimed at Wood County Schools by Freedom From Religion, issued the following statement Friday, explaining the organization and its mission:

GenerationNXT is a local non-profit organization that operates under the umbrella of Pray WV. There are many churches and businesses that provide financial support to help make it possible.

NXT Clubs are all inclusive faith based clubs. There are NXT Clubs that are currently operating in over 20 schools all over WV and Ohio. None of the clubs take place during instructional school time. All NXT clubs are held before school, during lunch, during school established club time, and after school. 100% of the clubs have a student leader and a teacher sponsor, as required by law.

All of the "outside adults" as they've been called, that are attending these clubs are asked to be there by the student leader. They are background checked, and volunteer approved through each individual school system. Most of them are even parents of one or more of the children attending the clubs.

Every elementary kid that attends a NXT club has been individually signed up to be in the club by their parent or guardian.

It is every child's right to have freedom of religion. It would be wrong to take this right away from them. Kids shouldn't have to check their faith at the door when entering a school building.


Update: 11/29/2018 7:15 P.M.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says a social media post from the Warehouse Church claimed several of its members who are teachers and principals helped start a bible club called "NXT Generation" in their schools.

The schools in question, the foundation says, were Kanawha and Blennerhassett Elementary.

"Given the age of the students and given that the activities are taking place during the school day, it presents a problem under the First Amendment," says Patrick Elliott, FFRF Attorney. "Public schools cannot promote or endorse religion to school students."

Wood County Superintendent William Hosaflook says the clubs originally met during lunch. He says now, they are required to meet after school.

Hosaflook says the teachers involved in the club served as facilitators father than direct participants, as required by state law.

"In elementary school, it's hard to have students led without teacher participation," Hosaflook says. "Therefore, all this activity happens after school due to the Equal Access Act, which the school follows. Any organization can use our facilities if they fill out the proper usage form."

Freedom From Religion says it is satisfied the school system has addressed the issue, but...

"We also asked the superintendent to investigate how these religious programs are taking place at some of the other schools, including the middle schools," Elliott said Thursday. "We have not heard as to whether a review has been done as to those programs."


Update: 11/29/2018 5:50 P.M.

Kristin Shaffer, Executive Director for the Warehouse Church, issued a statement late Thursday afternoon on the challenge to the Bible clubs at Wood County Schools.

"While we - along with many other churches in the Mid Ohio Valley - financially support Generation NXT, Generation NXT is an organization independent of any one church. Therefore, we are unable to comment directly on how and when the organization holds club meetings in area schools. However, as people of faith, we believe in the power of praying for and with the next generation. We also desire young people to know Jesus and His Word, so we support clubs that bring students closer to one another and God, including Generation NXT, Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and others."


UPDATE: 11/29/18 2:40 P.M.

The Wisconsin-based group that sued the city of Parkersburg earlier this year over city council’s support of the Lord’s Prayer before its meetings is now accusing the Wood County Board of Education of promoting religious instruction during the school day.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a news release on Thursday that school system “has allowed teachers and outside adults to facilitate religious instruction” in elementary schools.

The news release cited “Generation NXT” Bible clubs created at Kanawaha and Blennerhassett schools by teachers and representatives of The Warehouse Church in Parkersburg.

The group alleges that students are being recruited during lunch breaks and that the club has “openly admitted that teachers and principals have stepped up to ether start or join a NXT club in their school.” It is urging school officials to disband the groups immediately.

William Hosaflook, superintendent of Wood County schools, said Thursday afternoon that the clubs' meeting times have been moved to after-school hours to address the situation.

The group also said any school religious group must be clubs that student-oriented and run exclusively by students.

“Outside adults cannot attend these meetings and teachers cannot participate in religious activities with students, unlike what’s happening in these middle schools,” the group said.

The foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members aimed at protecting separation between church and state.


UPDATE: 09/20/18 6:30 P.M.

A lawsuit filed by a Wisconsin group and two local residents against Parkersburg City Council over the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer before meetings continues to make its way through federal court.

On Thursday, attorneys for the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a court brief in U.S. District Court in Charleston as it seeks a preliminary injunction to address the “unconstitutional practice of leading Christian prayers” before the council’s meetings.

The brief says the plaintiffs are entitled to the injunction because the practice “aligns the government with Christianity.” It also says the practice does not fit in with the “long tradition of legislative prayer” recognized in case law by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group filed the lawsuit in late July. Since then, the practice of saying the prayer before each city council meeting has continued.

The brief filed Thursday was a reply to one filed by the city’s attorneys on Sept. 10.

In that brief opposing an injunction, the city’s attorneys argue that plaintiffs are not required to say the prayer to participate in the meetings and that they are not being subjected to any form of harassment or humiliation by the council.

It's unknown when the judge might rule on the injunction request.


Update: 8/8/2018 5:00 P.M.

In late July, the group "Freedom From Religion" filed suit in federal court, seeking to prohibit Parkersburg City Council from saying "The Lord's Prayer" before council meetings.

The group cites recent court decisions in charging the practice is unconstitutional.

Parkersburg attorney George Cosenza says the issue has to do with the reciting of what is considered a Christian prayer.

"A court will have to interpret whether the city council engaging in that behavior, even if it's before the meeting starts, violates the establishment clause," Cosenza says. "And I think it's going to get a little tricky there, when you specifically say that type of prayer at a public event."


Update: 8/1/2018 6:15 P.M.

The practice of nearly every local public board or city council contacted by The News Center is: the saying of what's known as a "generic" prayer, or one considered non-denominational, prior to the start of meetings.

And they all say participation is voluntary.

The president of the Wood County Board of Education said, with the current controversy involving Parkersburg City Council, there could be some changes, including replacement of a prayer with a moment of silence.

Vienna's mayor doesn't-at least right now-plan any changes.

"Obviously, if it goes before the court, and the court says you're not allowed to have prayer before your meeting starts, we'll have to address that at that time," said Mayor Randy Rapp. "But I have no plans to change anything with the structure that's been in place for the past several years."

Two city councils, Williamstown and Marietta, have not had a prayer prior to their meetings. The same holds true generally with local county commissions.

All of them, however, may take a "wait and see" approach, while the Parkersburg lawsuit makes its way through federal courts.


Update: 7/31/2018 2:25 P.M.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce and City Council President John Reed both say the Lord's Prayer "is not part of the council meeting", adding the prayer takes place before the regular meeting is called to order.

Reed says the practice "will continue until the court directs otherwise."


7/31/2018

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit to stop the Parkersburg City Council from opening its meetings by reciting the Lord's Prayer.

In the lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Charleston Division, FFRF seeks a a preliminary injunction, which would prohibit the Parkersburg City Council from continuing to open its meetings with Christian prayers led by council members.

FFRF's lawsuit states that each Parkersburg City Council meeting is opened by City Council members and city residents standing up and reciting the Lord's Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13, ending with a Christian doxology.

FFRF says two of its members, Parkersburg residents Eric Engle and Daryl Cobranchi, have attended several Parkersburg City Council meetings and both say they felt pressured to stand up and recite the Lord's Prayer.

Cobranchi stated he believes the practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer at Parkersburg City Council meetings “assigns to second-class status anyone who is not Christian.”

The lawsuit also states that, in a City Council meeting in September, 2017, City Councilman Eric Barber glared at attendees who sat during the Lord's Prayer. After the prayer, Barber turned on his microphone and shouted, "Amen."

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that sectarian legislator-led prayers were unconstitutional in the case Lund v. Rowan County, N.C.

In that case, the Fourth Circuit opinion said, “The principle at stake here may be a profound one, but it is also simple. The Establishment Clause does not permit a seat of government to wrap itself in a single faith.”

Last year, FFRF sued Mercer County Schools in West Virginia, seeking to end 75 years of Bible classes offered as electives in public schools there. The classes have since ended.

You can read and download the complete lawsuit filing in the "LAWSUIT: Freedom From Religion Foundation vs. City of Parkersburg" link in the "Related Links" section.