Many ask about the legalities of Released Time.
Released Time is not a violation of the judicial doctrine of separation of Church and State. In fact, Released Time honors that principle by providing for a diversity of beliefs, affording schools protection from charges of a state-established religion, and protecting students’ and parents’ rights to the free exercise of religion.
In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Zorach v. Clauson that it is constitutional for public schools to permit students to participate in Released Time programs as long as they meet these three requirements:
- Parental permission for student participation has been given,
- Program instruction takes place off school grounds, and
- No government funding is used.
To learn more about Released Time legalities and how programs operate, see the questions and answers below and review the document, "The Bible’s Place in Public Schools."
What is Released Time?
Released Time allows public school students to leave the school campus during the school day to receive religious instruction. During this time, the students study their religion’s sacred text, both academically and devotionally. In some states, high school students may receive academic credit for their participation in this off-campus instruction.
How does the program work?
Parents sign a permission form for their students to attend religious instruction off-campus during a designated time of the school day. The program must maintain independent governance and funding from the school or school district to avoid violating the Establishment Clause.
How do programs choose what religious instruction to provide?
Released Time Programs are sponsored by local religious organizations. Thus, the religious instruction offered is selected by the sponsoring organization. More than one religious organization may offer Released Time programs at a single school.
What is the structure of Released Time programs? How does School Ministries relate to Released Time?
- Released Time programs are run at the local level. The programs vary by state based on who operates them, whether there are state laws governing how they operate, and any policies adopted by local schools. Any religious organization can begin a local Released Time program that complies with state and school board regulations.
- School Ministries is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to provide the necessary support for starting and growing Christian Released Time programs. Read more about School Ministries here.
What alternative programs are offered for students to study the Bible? How does Released Time programs differ from alternative programs?
The Bible’s Place in Public Schools
The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation developed a toolkit explaining the three distinct ways the Bible has a place in public schools. Each way has different laws, rules, and regulations that must be followed. To learn more about Bible Literacy Curriculum, Released Time, and Bible Clubs, access the toolkit.
Bible Literacy Curriculum
Schools are allowed to teach about the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, and other sacred texts and religions as part of the school’s curriculum. This can occur in a social studies or literature class, or even as a stand-alone class in many states. Even so, such instruction must be strictly secular as part of the study of the Bible’s influence on literature, history, civilization, or comparative religion. The classes cannot include any faith, devotional, or discipleship component.
Before-school and After-school Clubs
Student-led extracurricular Bible clubs before or after school, or Bible clubs sponsored by community groups both allow for students to learn about the Bible for religious and devotional purposes. If a school district permits students to form other clubs or allows community groups to offer secular after-school programs on campus, then it must allow students to form extracurricular Bible clubs and community groups to start an after-school Bible club. But such Bible clubs cannot meet during academic periods, meaning that students who have other obligations before or after school cannot participate.
Released Time programs incorporate some of the best elements of the alternative programs. Like Bible courses, Released Time can occur during academic time (so long as the program occurs off school grounds) and students may even be awarded academic credit in some states. And like extracurricular Bible clubs, Released Time can include faith and devotional components during school hours.
Why is it Released Time instead of Release Time?
In Zorach v. Clauson, the court refers to the religious instruction class as a “released time” program. We have used the name “released time” since the landmark case.
What is the difference between Released Time Bible Education, Released Time Christian Education, Released Time Religious Instruction, and Released Time Education?
Essentially there is no difference between these Released Time programs. These programs all point to the same ability for any organization to implement “released time” for religious education during school hours. In addition, other religions may have different names for “released time” programs. All of these programs are considered constitutional so long as they implement the requirements set by the US Supreme Court in Zorach.
Additional information on Religious Education in American Public Schools
Additional information on Religious Education in American Public Schools, please see The Bible’s Place in Public Schools, by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.
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