Release-Time: It’s Legal

In 1952, the United States Supreme Court approved Release-Time Christian Education programs with these words:

“When the state encourages religious instruction and cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.  For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups.  That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. …We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”                           (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 313, 1952)

It is essential that constitutional guidelines be adhered to in the establishment and practice of a Released Time program.  The principles, as set out in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, provide that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  The first phrase – the Establishment Clause – requires the government to not entangle itself with religious practices, or establish or support religion in any way; the government is to keep itself separate from religion.  The second phrase – the Free Exercise Clause – mandates that government be neutral, not antagonistic, to religion. Government must accommodate religion.  

Major points to determine the legality of a Released Time program:

  1. Classes are to be held off of school property
  2. Written request/permission from child’s parent or guardian
  3. Released Time program must be operated by religious groups
  4. Attendance must be reported to the public school
  5. School personnel cannot promote/hinder religious education (must remain neutral)
  6. Student recruitment for Released Time program is the total responsibility of religious organization
  7. Religious organization assumes all liability when students leave school property for the program
  8. School officials have no part in teacher selection, curriculum, doctrinal content  of program
  9. No tax dollars must be used
  10. Entanglement with the public school must be avoided

In 1978, (Lanner v. Winner) the 10th circuit court of appeals upheld Released Time classes and affirmed a state or school district’s ability to offer elective credit for Released Time classes

 

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