Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate voted unanimously Thursday to reaffirm the right of students to pray in public schools.
Senate Bill 370, which now heads to the House, would allow students to pray silently at any time or out loud during non-instructional time as long as the prayer is initiated by students – not teachers or staff – and nobody is forced to participate. Also, any school employees present during a student prayer would be encouraged to "adopt a respectful posture."
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said teachers and school administrators are so confused by laws on school prayer that a McDowell County student was ordered to delete a portion of her poem where she described her late grandfather praying.
"This act is an attempt to clarify statewide that students do have the right to express in manners as they otherwise would their religious affiliations," Hise said. "It also tends to clarify that faculty members aren't required, as they felt they were under other policies, to be hostile to those expressions."
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, questioned why a provision was deleted from the bill that would have spelled out there could be no official prayer in schools.
"I think we can all agree, given what has happened in the House of Representatives this session, that there is a lot of confusion as to what the law is and whether there can be an official state religion," Stein said.
A resolution was filed in the House in March that supported the creation of an official religion in North Carolina, but it never came up for a vote.
"I don't have a problem necessarily with what's in the existing bill. I just wish there was as much respect for people who may have a different religion than other people in this society," Stein said.
Liability limited for farm animal owners
The Senate also unanimously passed a wide-ranging farm act that repealed some outdated regulations, freed landowners from some wetlands rules and increased privacy protections for people who use state animal health programs.
The largest section of Senate Bill 638, however, would limit the liability of farm animal owners when people are injured or sickened by their interactions with the animals.
Numerous people have contracted diseases in recent years from petting zoos at the North Carolina State Fair.
The legislation, which heads to the House, would insulate owners who post clear warnings about the "inherent risks of farm animal activities" from liability if someone is injured or killed. The only exceptions would be if the owner is negligent, knowingly provides faulty equipment, such as worn bridles, or fails to reasonably assess a person's ability to interact with an animal.