Hawaii is one of several states that requires school boards to allow students to participate in Released Time. Students can be dismissed for up to 60 minutes each week for religious instruction.
This statute opens the door for Released Time in every school district in the state. Released Time programs should be operating in every school in the state to ensure that students are able to take advantage of their right under state law to participate in religious instruction.
A program 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.
Haw. Stat. Ann. § 302A-1139
“(a) The department [of education] shall provide for the release of, and shall release, any pupil in any public school from attendance at the public school for a period not to exceed sixty minutes each week during the school year, on such days and during such school hours as the department shall designate, for the purpose of receiving religious instruction from the religious organization of the pupil’s choice when the release is requested in writing by a parent, guardian, or other person having custody or control of the pupil. Actual attendance at the sessions of the religious instruction shall count as attendance at the public schools for all purposes where attendance forms the basis of computation.
(b) The privilege of this release shall be withdrawn by the department in case the pupil does not actually attend the sessions of religious instruction. No teacher of the public schools shall participate in religious instruction during the school hours for which the teacher is employed to teach in the public schools, and no public funds shall be used directly or indirectly for religious instruction, at any time when its use would otherwise be required in connection with the regular program of the school.”
66 Haw. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 24
A 1966 Attorney General Opinion stated that it would not violate the U.S. or the Hawaii Constitution to permit religious institutions to rent school busses “at an established rate to transport students who are released from public schools to attend religious education classes.” This opinion was written more than 60 years ago, and while no case law appears to have challenged its stated position, individual school policies may not permit this arrangement.
Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2010).
In Newdow, the 9th Circuit referenced Zorach v. Clauson, describing it as a case “in which school children were allowed to be excused from public schools for religious observances and education.” Id. at 1026.
Other court decisions by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have referenced Zorach in a similar manner. See e.g., Prince v. Jacoby, 303 F.3d 1074, 1099 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that Zorach upheld “release time program where religious classes were not held on school property and there was no indication that the public schools enforced attendance at religious schools by punishing absentees from the released time programs for truancy.” (internal quotations omitted)); Cammack v. Waihee, No. 87-15073, 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 18115 at *38 (9th Cir. Aug. 9, 1991) (stating that in Zorach, “the Court rejected an establishment clause challenge to a program whereby public schools released students for a limited time for off-campus religious instruction”); Collins v. Chandler Unified School Dist. 644 F.2d 759, 761 (9th Cir. 1981) (stating that in Zorach, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “releasing students to attend religious activities off school grounds [is] constitutionally valid”).
*The rulings of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.