Released Time Bible Education: Off school premises, in real time.

General Information

Arkansas Asset99Arkansas, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Arkansas would need to obtain permission from the local school board for students to participate in the program.

It would also need to ensure compliance with the court approved guidepost for Released Time programs. These include:

1) The school cannot fund the Released Time program, other than de minimis administrative costs (such as the costs of a school board approving a local Released Time policy).

2) Released Time programs cannot take place on school premises; and

3) Student participation in Released Time programs must be voluntary. There cannot be any coercion on the part of any school official.

However, these three points are not exclusive. One should conduct thorough research on the latest state and federal laws and court decisions to determine if there are any updated guidelines for a Released Time program to follow.

Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district can authorize a program and make an appointment to see that person. If the principal refers the organization to the school board, it would be wise to meet individually with school board members before presenting the concept at a meeting of the whole board.





Attorney General

1984 Ark. Op. Att'y Gen. No. 84-198

“In 1952, the United States Supreme Court found as constitutional ‘released time’ for public school students to attend religious classes off-campus. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 72 S.Ct. 679, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952). It must be noted, however, that the Zorach decision was handed down prior to the methodology established by the Supreme Court in Lemon.

When Lemon is applied to the question of whether a religious program can be presented off-campus during school hours, an affirmative answer to the following questions is required in order that the practice not be considered unconstitutional. Are the students allowed to attend the programs for non-religious purposes? Does the policy or practice neither advance nor inhibit religion? Does the policy or practice avoid an excessive intanglement with religion?”

Case Law

Doe v. Human, 725 F. Supp. 1503 (W.D. Ark. 1989)

In Doe, 725 F. Supp. 1503 (W.D. Ark. 1989), a federal district court in Arkansas held that a volunteer-led Bible study during school hours on public school property was unconstitutional because the principal effect of the Bible studies was to advance religion (as opposed to being primarily secular in nature) in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The court distinguished this case from Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952) since in Zorach, the religious instruction took place off campus, whereas in Doe v. Human, the instruction took place on campus. This case reaffirms that released-time programs must be held off-campus to meet current legal standards.

Several cases within the 8th Circuit have made summary references to Zorach. See e.g., Bogen v. Doty, 598 F.2d 1110, 1113 (8th Cir. 1979) (In Zorach, the “practice of releasing students for periods of religious instruction [was] upheld.”); Brusca v. Missouri, 332 F. Supp. 275, n. 2 (E.D. Mo. 1971)(stating that Zorach, when read in conjunction with McCollum v. Bd. of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948), “teaches that it is one thing to cooperate with religion by permitting the release of public school children for religious instruction without cost to the state on off-school premises, and quite another to assist such a religious program financially, even to the limited extent of allowing the use of school buildings for that purpose.”).

*The rulings of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.