Iowa state law allows students to be excused from attending school for the purpose of “receiving religious instruction.” As a result, a Released Time program in Iowa 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.
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.
Iowa Code Ann. § 299.2(4)
Iowa’s compulsory attendance requirements do not apply to a child “while attending religious services or receiving religious instructions.”
1953 Iowa Op. Att’y Gen., WL 83271
“The legislature of the state of Iowa has deemed it proper and advisable to encourage the attendance of children at religious services and to attend places where they will receive religious instruction. Section 299.2, Code of Iowa, 1950, contains the school attendance requirements of children. One who violates these requirements is a truant.
By the provisions of section 299.2 of the Code there is excepted from the truancy provisions by virtue of subsection 4 thereof, any child “while attending religious services or receiving religious instructions.”
As observed by the Supreme Court of the United States, we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom of worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a diversity of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man may deem necessary. We sponsor a duty on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents.
Encouragement of religious instruction by the state and its co-operation with religious authorities in the adjustment of the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, follows the best of our traditions. A contrary view must find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show callous indifference to religious groups. Such a finding would favor those who believed in no religion over those who do believe.
There is no law of the state of Iowa which forbids such arrangement as is involved in your question administered upon an impartial basis. Nor is such an arrangement offensive to the Constitution of the United States or the state of Iowa.
You are, therefore, advised that it is the opinion of this office that the board of directors of an Iowa school district may make provision to excuse pupils for one hour per week on the written request of their parents, so that such pupils may attend religious instruction given by nonschool personnel at places which are not part of the school premises.”
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.