North Carolina Enacts Law Protecting Student Prayer in Public Schools

Abigail Wilkinson | June 25, 2014 | 3:49pm EDT
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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (AP photo)

(  -- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law last week that protects the religious liberty of public school students, including their right to pray, share religious viewpoints, and distribute religious literature at school without harassment from school officials.

S.B. 370 was introduced in March 2013. It passed 106-9 in the North Carolina House and 48-1 in the state Senate before Gov. McCrory signed it on June 19th.

The new law’s stated goal is “to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.”

Among other things, the law protects a student’s right to “pray, either silently or audibly and alone or with other students,” to “attempt to share religious viewpoints with other students,” and to “possess or distribute religious literature,” provided that any activity is done in an orderly fashion. It also provides protection for student-led religious groups, and states that “a student shall not penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of the student’s work.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) spoke out against S.B. 370, claiming that it “could serve to ostracize students of different beliefs.”

The ACLU-NC also said that the legislation “is completely unnecessary” and that the right to religious expression in the public schools is “already well-protected.”

However, concern about the issue of religious liberty in public schools was aroused in 2012 when a poem written by a six-year-old girl in McDowell County was censored because it contained the word “God.’

The child had written the poem in honor of her grandfather, and planned to read it aloud in her elementary school’s annual Veteran’s Day program. But the school principal told her she could not recite the phrase “he prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength” after one parent complained.

When questioned, the school’s principal said that she had decided to “err on the side of caution to prevent from crossing the line on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”

“The North Carolina bill is the kind of legislation that is needed in every state,” The Catholic League said  in a statement. The League said that it will be contacting governors across the United States advocating for similar laws.

Earlier this month, California high school graduate Brooks Hamby was forced to rewrite his salutatory graduation speech three times to eliminate all references to his Christian faith. However, he made the remarks during the school's graduation ceremony anyway, quoting the Bible, which he called “the biggest best-selling book of all time."

In contrast, a Washington high school’s drama award ceremony in May featured profanity, sex toys and and offensive jokes by a teacher who later apologized, but faced no disciplinary action.

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