- Associated Press - Friday, April 21, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has endorsed a measure that says students can’t be prohibited from participating in any “student-initiated prayer” at a public or nonpublic school.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure Friday, following House approval a day earlier.

Backers say it’s in response to a prayer not being allowed to be broadcast over the public address system at football games two years ago hosted by parochial high schools. Because they were playoff games, they were sponsored by the state high school association, which didn’t allow pre-game prayers to be broadcast based on a 2000 Supreme Court decision that found student-led public prayers over loudspeakers to be unconstitutional.

The North Dakota legislation doesn’t address broadcasting a prayer, and North Dakota High School Activities Association spokesman Brian Bubach said he doesn’t believe the group’s stance will change.

“Prayer has been happening in North Dakota for years prior to teams taking the court, the field or after the game - there is not an issue with that,” Bubach said. “But when it comes over the loudspeaker, it becomes almost a forced assembly.”

The North Dakota High School Activities Association, which oversees public school extracurricular activities, gets no direct state financial support but is funded by membership dues from schools and ticket sales from activities.

The original bill, sponsored by West Fargo GOP Rep. Kim Koppelman, aimed to ensure the high school association or “any other entity” could not prohibit a public or private schools from “offering a prayer before a school-sanctioned athletic activity” on the school’s premises.

That provision, seen as a challenge to the nation’s high court ruling, was cut from the bill. The amended version essentially will codify current practice, if signed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum.

Koppelman said the measure was worthwhile since it will make clear in law student-initiated prayer will be allowed, even if it isn’t over a loudspeaker.

“A half-loaf is better than none,” he said.

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