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North Carolina Prayer in Public Schools Laws

Prayer in Public Schools: In General

While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of an official religion, the issue of prayer in public schools is quite nuanced. On one hand, students should be free to pray voluntarily, but schools must refrain from creating an environment that coerces students into any particular religion. This tension within the First Amendment has largely been resolved through the U.S. Supreme Court, but efforts to reintroduce Christian prayer in public schools are ongoing.

Supporters of school prayer argue that "God has been removed" from public schools, but students are still free to pray and express their religious beliefs as long as they do so in a non-disruptive manner. Most schools now offer a "minute of silence" at the beginning of school to allow student prayer or meditation.

North Carolina School Prayer Laws at a Glance

North Carolina's prayer in public school laws allow for a one-minute period of silence, in which students may voluntarily and silently pray.

The basics of North Carolina's prayer in public school laws, including links to related resources, follow. See FindLaw's Religion at School section for additional articles.

Applicable Code Section 115C-47(29); (29b)
What is Allowed? Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed and silence maintained; prayer by individuals on voluntary basis allowed

Note: State laws are always subject to change at any time, usually through the enactment of new legislation but sometimes through higher court decisions or other means. You should contact a North Carolina education attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Does it Violate the Establishment Clause? The Lemon Test

Public schools are not allowed to provide religious instruction or otherwise use the classroom to proselytize, even subtly. But teaching students about different religions is allowed, such as history lessons about religious crusades or the influence of the church on Renaissance art. As a rule of thumb, the instruction must have a secular purpose.

The U.S. Supreme Court established a three-part test to determine whether a public school (a government institution) is "establishing" religion in violation of the First Amendment. The so-called "Lemon " test says that a policy -- in order to be considered constitutional -- must:

  1. Have a purpose that is not religious;
  2. Not favor or promote any one religion; and
  3. Not overly involve the government (or school) with religion

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North Carolina Prayer in Public Schools Laws: Related Resources

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