Under Indiana law, schools may excuse a student to participate in religious instruction upon receiving a written request from a parent. The religious instruction cannot exceed 120 minutes per week.
As a result, a Released Time program in Indiana 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 guideposts 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.
Additionally, high schools can award academic credits for participation in a Released Time program provided that the programs meet certain requirements.
Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. However, with community support, a carefully researched approach, and a proposal consistent with state law, you should expect success in gaining approval for the program.
Ind. Code § 20-33-2-19
“(a) When the parent of a student who is enrolled in a public school makes a written request, the principal may allow the student to attend a school for religious instruction that is conducted by a church, an association of churches, or an association that is organized for religious instruction and incorporated under Indiana law.
(b) If a principal grants permission under subsection (a), the principal shall specify a period or periods, not to exceed one hundred twenty (120) minutes in total in any week, for the student to receive religious instruction. The permission is valid only for the year in which it is granted. Decisions made by a principal under this section may be reviewed by the superintendent.
(c) A school for religious instruction that receives students under this section:
(1) shall maintain attendance records and allow inspection of these records by attendance officers; and
(2) may not be supported, in whole or in part, by public funds.
(d) A student who attends a school for religious instruction under this section shall receive the same attendance credit that the student would receive for attendance in the public schools for the same length of time.”
Ind. Code Ann. § 20-33-2-19(e)
“(e) A public secondary school may award academic credit to a student who attends religious instruction under this section if the governing body of the school corporation adopts a policy that allows the awarding of credit. A policy adopted under this subsection must provide the following:
(1) Classes in religious instruction are evaluated on the basis of purely secular criteria in substantially the same manner as similar classes taken by a student at a nonpublic secondary school who transfers to a public secondary school are evaluated to determine whether the student receives transfer credit for the classes. Secular criteria may include the following in addition to other secular criteria established by the governing body:
(A) The number of hours of classroom instructional time.
(B) A review of the course syllabus that reflects the course requirements and materials.
(C) Methods of assessment used in the course.
(D) Whether the course is taught by a licensed teacher.
(2) The decision of whether to award academic credit is neutral as to, and does not involve any test for, religious content or denominational affiliation.
(3) A provision that a student who attends religious instruction under this section shall first seek to use a time period during a student instructional day (as defined in IC 20–30–2–2) that is not devoted to student instructional time to attend religious instruction. If a student is not able to attend religious instruction at a time other than during student instructional time, the student may not be released to attend religious instruction for an amount of time per week that exceeds the amount established in subsection (b).”
1956 Ind. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 24
"The Acts of 1943, Ch. 225, Sec. 1, as found in Burns' Indiana Statutes (1948 Repl.) , Section 28-505a, referred to in your letter, is as follows: "If it is the wish of the parent, guardian or other person having control or legal custody of any child, that such child attend, for a period or periods to be determined by the local principal or superintendent of schools and not exceeding in the aggregate one hundred and twenty (120) minutes in any week, a school for religious instruction, conducted and maintained bysome church or association of churches, or by some association organized for religious instruction, and incorporated under the laws of this state, and which school shall not be conducted or maintained, either in whole or in part, by the use of any public funds raised by taxation; such child upon written request of the parent, guardian or other person having legal custody may be permitted to attend such school for religious instruction and such permission shall be valid for not longer than the school year during which it is issued. Such school for religious instruction shall maintain records of attendance which shall at all times be open to the inspection of the public school attendance officers. Attendance at such school for religious instruction shall be given the same attendance credit as at the public school”
“I am of the opinion the Acts of 1943, Ch. 225, Sec. 1, supra, is constitutional in its entirety. This is true for the reason there is no material difference between the provisions of the Indiana Released Time Statute and the New York Plan, and the language of the United States Supreme Court … is equally applicable to the Indiana statute.”
H.S. v. Huntington County Community School Corp., 616 F. Supp. 2d 863 (N.D. Ind. 2009)
In H.S., the federal district court of Northern Indiana held that the act of parking a trailer on the school parking lot, combined with the fact that it incorrectly appeared that the trailer was using the school’s electricity, was enough to violate the Establishment Clause. As a result, the court upheld a preliminary injunction against the program.