GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF NORTH CAROLINA
SENATE BILL 370
Education Committee Substitute Adopted 5/8/13
Third Edition Engrossed 5/9/13
Short Title: Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity.
March 20, 2013
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT 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.
The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
SECTION 1. Chapter 115C of the General Statutes is amended by adding a new Article to read:
"Student Prayer and Religious Activity.
"§ 115C-407.30. Student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity.
(a) A student shall be permitted to voluntarily do any of the following:
(1) Pray, either silently or audibly and alone or with other students, to the same extent and under the same circumstances as a student is permitted to vocally or silently reflect, meditate, or speak on nonreligious matters alone or with other students in public schools.
(2) Express religious viewpoints in a public school to the same extent and under the same circumstances as a student is permitted to express viewpoints on nonreligious topics or subjects in the school.
(3) Speak to and attempt to share religious viewpoints with other students in a public school to the same extent and under the same circumstances as a student is permitted to speak to and attempt to share nonreligious viewpoints with other students.
(4) Possess or distribute religious literature in a public school, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, to the same extent and under the same circumstances as a student is permitted to possess or distribute literature on nonreligious topics or subjects in the school.
(5) Organize prayer groups, religious clubs, "see you at the pole" gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities and groups. Religious groups shall be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression. If student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce meetings of the groups, the school district shall not discriminate against groups that meet for prayer or other religious speech. A local board of education and local school administrative unit may disclaim school sponsorship of noncurricular groups and events in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.
(6) Express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written or oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of the submission. Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the local board of education. A student shall not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of the student's work.
(b) A student may be prohibited from engaging in the actions provided in subsection (a) of this section if the actions of the student would do any of the following:
(1) Infringe on the rights of the school to (i) maintain order and discipline, (ii) prevent disruption of the educational process, and (iii) determine educational curriculum and assignments.
(2) Harass other persons or coerce other students to participate in the activity.
(3) Otherwise infringe on the rights of other persons.
"§ 115C-407.31. Administrative remedies and cause of action for complaints regarding exercise of religious activity.
(a) The local board of education may establish or make available an existing formal grievance process to allow students or the parents or guardians of students to present allegations that a right established under this Article has been violated by a public school. The formal grievance process shall include the right of appeal to the local board of education.
(b) If a local board of education fails to provide a formal grievance process, the following process shall be provided:
(1) A student or a student's parent or guardian shall state the complaint to the school's principal, who shall meet with the student or the student's parent or guardian, if requested.
(2) If the student's concerns are not resolved by the meeting with the principal, the student or student's parent or guardian may make a complaint in writing to the superintendent of the local school administrative unit with the specific facts of the alleged violation. The superintendent shall investigate and take appropriate action to ensure the alleged violation of the rights of the student is resolved within 30 days of receiving the written complaint.
(3) If the superintendent fails to resolve the student's concerns within 30 days, the student or student's parent or guardian may appeal to the local board of education as provided in G.S. 115C-45.
(c) If a right of a student established under this Article is violated by a public school and the student has exhausted the administrative remedies provided in this section, the student may assert the violation as a cause of action or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against the local board of education. The action shall be brought in the superior court of the county in which the local school administrative unit is located.
(d) No action may be maintained pursuant to this Article unless the student has exhausted the administrative remedies provided in subsections (a) and (b) of this section.
(e) A student prevailing in a claim brought against a local school administrative unit for a violation under this Article or any action brought by a public school against a student for conduct covered by this Article shall be entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs.
(f) The Attorney General shall intervene and shall provide legal defense of this Article in any action which includes claims challenging the constitutionality of this Article.
"§ 115C-407.32. Religious activity for school personnel.
(a) Nothing in this Article shall be construed to support, encourage, or permit a teacher, administrator, or other employee of the local board of education to lead, direct, or encourage any religious or antireligious activity in violation of that portion of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States prohibiting laws respecting an establishment of religion.
(b) Local boards of education may not prohibit school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times before or after the instructional day so long as such activities are voluntary for all parties and do not conflict with the responsibilities or assignments of such personnel.
(c) School employees supervising extracurricular activities, including coaches, may be present while a student or group of students exercises their voluntary right to pray as provided in G.S. 115C-407.30 and, if present, shall not be disrespectful of the student exercise of such rights and may adopt a respectful posture.
(d) Nothing in this section shall prohibit local boards of education from allowing school personnel to participate in other constitutionally permissible religious activities on school grounds.
"§ 115C-407.33. Limitations of Article.
This Article shall not be construed to direct any local board of education to take any action in violation of the Constitution of North Carolina or the United States. The specification of rights in this Article shall not be construed to exclude or limit religious liberty or free speech rights otherwise protected by federal, State, or local law."
SECTION 2. G.S. 115C-47(29b) is repealed.
SECTION 3. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable.
SECTION 4. This act is effective when it becomes law.