By Matthew Young, RealWV
WEST UNION, W.Va. – Officials at Doddridge County High School are facing public backlash this week as the result of a controversial suicide prevention assembly that some attendees described as being “a thinly-disguised attempt at preaching the gospel.”
The assembly was hosted by Bob Holmes, a Christian Evangelist who travels the country accepting speaking engagements. According to Holmes’ website, boboutreach.com, “Bob Holmes is an evangelist who preaches at churches, revival meetings, pastors’ and youth conferences, Christian schools, camps, and other Christian events.”
The website further states, “In addition, God has given Bob a unique and compelling platform to reach both Christians and non-Christians as a one-man, world record-setting volleyball player who travels across the U.S. and around the world playing exhibition volleyball games solo against teams of players, and speaking to diverse general audiences and groups including students, teachers, military veterans, prisoners at correctional facilities, the National Guard, fans at sporting events and more, often with the opportunity to share the Gospel message.”
On Wednesday, The RealWV received an anonymous letter from an attendee of the assembly at Doddridge County High School. The letter states: “Yesterday (Tuesday, May 2nd), at Doddridge County High School, a suicide prevention assembly was held. The presenter was Bob Holmes, who goes around the nation doing these assemblies. The assembly was required for all students, and it began with a few games of volleyball. He then began to speak and, within maybe 10 minutes, began talking in what can only be described as a thinly-disguised attempt at preaching the gospel. He told stories about people who had found Jesus after his presentation, and spoke about the crucifixion of Jesus and the ‘lake of fire’ mentioned in the Book of Revelations. He then ended the assembly by asking us (the students and staff present) to bow our heads while he prayed. He said he ‘wanted each of us to spend eternity in heaven’ and that he would ‘pray that we are in his neighborhood in heaven.’”
Tuesday’s assembly was not the first time Holmes has been criticized after accepting a speaking engagement at a public school. The Bolivar School District in Missouri banned Holmes from returning after allegedly telling students, “[A] girl was molested in 13 foster homes. And because she got forgiven by the lord Jesus, she went to every one of her child molesters and said, ‘I forgive you because I got forgiven by my wonderful savior,’” during a 2018 appearance.
The Springfield News-Leader reported that Holmes was paid $800 for his appearance at Bolivar High School. It was also reported that Holmes allegedly told students that, “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior and I’m not ashamed to tell you that,” before inviting students to attend a Christian event at a different school.
On Friday, the ACLU of West Virginia delivered a letter to Doddridge County High School Principal Scott Cochran and Assistant Principal Karla Ezell expressing concerns regarding Holmes’ participation in the assembly. The letter states that the ACLU had been contacted “by concerned members of your school community concerning a religious assembly.”
Read the ACLU of West Virginia’s full letter here.
The letter further states: “Students reported that the assembly was explicitly religious. The speaker reportedly proselytized to students, had students participate in a group prayer, and spoke to the students about doctrines contained in the Christian Bible.”
The reports received by the ACLU of West Virginia mirror those in the letter received by The RealWV. In their communication to Doddridge County High School, the ACLU of W.Va. argued that “public schools are required to ensure that state-supported activity is not used for religious indoctrination. A school-sponsored assembly – happening on school property and during educational time – certainly runs afoul of these requirements.”
Due to the school schedule, RealWV was unable to reach Cochran, Ezell, or any other representative of Doddridge County High School, nor did Bob Holmes return our request for comment. RealWV will provide updates regarding this situation as additional details are made available.