All the miseries and evils which men suffer from – vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war—proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.


Noah Webster, Father of American Scholarship and Education

New Mexico

Updated July 2009  
SUMMARY for New Mexico
General Information The first step is to gather as much information as you can about New Mexico's Released Time statute, what, if anything, is being done with Released Time in the state, and how a Released Time program may address state educational objectives (e.g. self-esteem, values education). Determine who will make the decision whether to allow a program and make an appointment to see that person. If the principal refers you to the school board, you would be wise to meet individually with school board members before presenting the concept at a school board meeting. You will want to consider models from other states as New Mexico allows up to one hour each day for Released Time religious instruction.

Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. However, with a carefully crafted approach and with statutory recognition, you should expect success in gaining approval for the program.

 

Department of Education Website New Mexico Public Education Department

Website: http://www.ped.state.nm.us/

 

DETAILS for New Mexico
Statutes New Mexico compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 6-16 (inclusive), must "attend a public school, a private school, or a state institution." N.M. STAT. ANN. § 22-12-2 (2013).

New Mexico, in addition, expressly allows Released Time in N.M. STAT. ANN. § 22-12-3 (2013). Any student, with the consent of his parents, may be excused from public school in order to participate in religious instruction. The student may not be excused for more than one hour each school day at a time period not in conflict with the academic program of the public school. All excuses are subject to the approval of the local school board. Religious instruction cannot be conducted on school property nor can the local school board or its employees assume responsibility for the instruction.

 

Case Law

Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349 (10th Cir. 1981)
In Lanner, the Court of Appeals held that Released Time programs permitting attendance at religious classes off school premises, do not per se offend the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.  The Court recognized that Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, which is still good law, declared that public schools may permit the released of students during school hours for attendance at religious classes. Lanner, 662 F.2d at 1358. These religious classes, in addition, must be taught by religious teachers on private property. Lanner, 662 F.2d at 1354.

The Court concluded,

We hold that except for the creidt and the attendance-gethering procedure, neither the individual aspects of the Released Time program nor the cumulative effect of the various aspects of the program violate the Establishment Clause. Lanner, 662 F.2d at 1359.

Since the Utah Released Time program was substantially similar to the program in Zorach, the Utah program was declared constitutional. The public school's gathering of religious instruction attendance slips (which had been prepared and provided by the public school) and the granting of state credit for the religious instruction had to be discontinued because it violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. The Court found that "less-entangling" alternatives could replace the present entangling procedures of Released Time attendance.

Note that in Lanner, credit was disallowed because the state policy required that the religious instruction be non-sectarian, which placed the State in the Constitutionally impermissible position of judging religious content. Credit may be allowed if the determination is based on objective criteria such as teacher qualification.

Though this case deals with released time in Utah, it still has precedential weight in federal courts in New Mexico.