- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Legislation designed to make clear how North Carolina public school students and teachers may participate in religious activities or expression has passed the state House by a wide margin following lengthy debate over faith and constitutional rights.

The House voted 106-9 Wednesday night in favor of the measure, which is just one Senate vote away from heading to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. The Senate unanimously approved an earlier version last year.

The measure seeks to lay out how schools should comply with federal law and guidance on constitutionally protected prayer. It says students may share religious viewpoints and distribute religious literature in schools, with reasonable restrictions.

It also says school personnel and coaches involved in extracurricular activities “may adopt a respectful posture” during voluntary student prayer. While the phrase isn’t defined, some legislators suggest they may be allowed to bow their heads during the prayer.

Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, said he filed the bill after a local elementary school student was told to remove a reference to God in a poem for a Veteran’s Day observance. The measure also explains how students or their parents can seek relief through a grievance process.

“This bill is not a fringe or radical religious bill,” Dobson said. “This is a common-sense bill.”

Some legislators say they support the “respectful posture” language even though a lawmaker warned that it has been struck down by federal courts elsewhere.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union questioned the bill’s necessity because the rights of students to voluntarily practice their religion are already protected. The bill’s language “could wrongly encourage public school personnel to takes sides in student-led religious activity” and make some students feel ostracized, state ACLU policy director Sarah Preston said in a news release.

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