Rep. Renee Erickson says she knows from personal experience that protections are necessary for students and faculty members who want to pray in public school.

The Republican from Wichita, a retired teacher and administrator, said her superiors violated her constitutional rights when they told her to leave her deeply held personal beliefs at the door.

If students lead a prayer, Erickson said, a teacher should be allowed to join.

"Academic freedom derives from the right to free speech," she said. "We value diversity of thought. We value diversity of speech in our school system. It makes us all better when we are able to share different viewpoints, and I think we all agree with that."

She testified Thursday before the House Education Committee in support of House Bill 2288, which requires schools to allow employees to engage in religious expression, discuss religious topics, sponsor religious clubs, participate in student-led prayer, wear religious clothing and decorate a classroom with items that reflect religious beliefs.

It also allows for students to share their beliefs in speeches at school-sponsored events.

Brittany Jones, an attorney for the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation has made a "coordinated attack" on expressions of faith in public schools.

"This bill creates the space for students and faculty to live out their faith without fear of punishment, no matter their faith background," Jones said.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, wondered whether the proposal would extend to the pontification of Satan worshipers and pastafarians — those followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — at school events.

"This looks like it opens it up to that bag of worms, and so I've got concerns," Clayton said.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, said if lawmakers are bothered about teachers being threatened, they should think about restoring due process rights.

Mark Desetti, of the Kansas National Education Association, and and Leah Fliter, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said teacher involvement leads to complaints because of the power dynamic between an authority figure and student.

Young students are especially impressionable, Desetti said. If a teacher adorns her desk with Catholic-themed decorations, a Jewish kindergartner might wonder why his parents are telling him something wrong.

Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, reflected on how he got to grow up in a different time and place, where most of his teachers were related to his parents. In 7th grade, his coach prayed for victory. In 8th grade, the coach prayed for both teams' safety.

"There are times and places where I think we can work and find through local control how we embrace whatever it is that we do together, and how do we celebrate this larger community that we're in, however we define that," Johnson said.

Fliter told him that schools can address care, respect and treating each other like you want to be treated without going into the realm of religious prayer.

"If we really want to have prayer in our school, then we have religious schools that our children can attend," Fliter said.