Connecticut, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Connecticut 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.
1969 Conn. Op. Att’y Gen. WL 14928
This opinion addresses Released Time by acknowledging that “when the primary, and not the incidental, effect of governmental activity is the assistance of religion, then such activity is improper.” While the “voluntary religious instruction of school children, conducted on school premises, has been invalidated … such instruction has been upheld where it takes place off school property, when the children are voluntarily released during the school day.”
Pierce ex rel. Pierce v. Sullivan West Central School District, 379 F.3d 56 (2d Cir 2004)
In Pierce, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that New York’s Education Law provision allowing “Released Time” from public schools for religious instruction did not violate Establishment Clause as implemented by school district. The local program did not use public funds or involve on-site religious instruction, the program was purely voluntary, and there was no specific coercion or pressure brought to bear on non-participants by school officials.
In McCreary v. Stone, 739 F.2d 716 (2d Cir. 1984), the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals referenced Zorach v. Clauson as standing for the proposition that a “program allowing release of students during school hours for religious instruction” did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Id. at 726. Similarly, in Katcoff v. March, 755 F.2d 223 (2d. Cir. 1985), the 2nd Circuit cited Zorach as “upholding school released time program for religious instruction outside [the] city’s school system.” Id. at 233.
*The rulings of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.