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General Information

New Jersey, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in New Jersey 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 guidepost for Released Time programs provided by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) and Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952).

These guideposts 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, encouragement, or discouragement 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. An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district can authorize a program and make an appointment to see that person. If the principal refers the organization to the school board, it would be wise to meet individually with school board members before presenting the concept at a meeting of the whole board.

Statutes

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 18a
New Jersey compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 6-15 (inclusive), must attend a public school or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children. The child may also receive “equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.”

There are no express statutes either prohibiting or permitting Released Time programs for the purpose of religious instruction.

Regulations

None

Attorney General Opinions

None

Case Law

ACLU v. Black Horse Pike Reg’l Bd. of Educ., 84 F.3d 1471 (3d Cir. 1996)
In ACLU v. Black Horse Pike Reg’l Bd. of Educ., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals referenced Zorach v. Clauson as having upheld “statutory ‘released time’ program whereby public schools release students during the school day to receive off-site religious education.” Id. at 1487. While this case was dealing with constitutional issues unrelated to released-time programs, the circuit court’s references to the Zorach case in this way implies that this circuit recognizes Zorach’s upholding of a released-time program as constitutionally valid.

*The rulings of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.