||Maryland, like many other states does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. However, this does not necessarily prohibit Released Time. In fact, it may allow a wider range of Released Time programs. Since Maryland does not have specific laws regarding Released Time, a Released Time program in Maryland would fall subject to the federal guideposts presented in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948), Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), and Grand Rapids School District v. Ball, 473 U.S. 373 (1985).
In summary, the above cases present three general requirements for Released Time programs: 1) The state cannot fund Released Time directly or indirectly. This prohibits not only funds themselves but also any support or benefit from anything purchased or anyone compensated by state funds; 2) Released Time programs cannot take place on school premises; and 3) 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 federal and state case law to see whether your state or federal circuit has its own case law supplementing the requirements in McCollum, Zorach, and Ball.
|Maryland compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 6-16 (inclusive), attend public school "unless the child is otherwise receiving regular, thorough instruction" during the school year in studies usually taught in public schools. MD. CODE ANN. EDUCATION § 7-301
Although Maryland has no expressed Released Time Statute, § 7-301 does allow a county superintendent or school principal the authority to excuse a child for a "lawful absence." Some Maryland school districts have interpreted "lawful absences" as permitting students to be released for religious instruction.
Smith v. Smith, 523 F.2d 121 (4th Cir. 1975) cert. denied 423 U.S. 1073
In Smith, an action was brought to challenge a Released Time program whereby public school students were released during school hours for religious instruction off school premises by a nonprofit organization supported by a council of churches. The U.S. Court of Appeals held that it was their duty to follow the Zorach v. Clauson test, which held that the Released Time programs for religious instruction were constitutional as long as they did not involve public funds or take place on public school property. Smith v. Smith, 523 F.2d 121, 123 (4th Cir. 1975).
The Harrisonburg Released Time program, therefore, was constitutional since it 1) had a secular purpose in accommodating the wishes of the parents, 2) did not excessively entangle the state with religion since the religious instruction did not take place in the class rooms, and 3) its primary effect neither advanced nor inhibited religion. The Court concluded,
..public school cooperation with the religious authorities in Zorach and the instant case is a largely passive and administratively wise response to a plenitude of parental assertions of the right to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. Smith, 523 F.2d at 125.
Thus public school cooperation with Released Time programs for religious instruction is constitutional and "administratively wise." Although this case was about a program in Virginia, it does have precedential weight in federal courts in Maryland.
Moss v. Spartanburg County School District Seven, 683 F.3d 599 (4th Cir. 2012)
In Moss, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the South Carolina school district's practice of awarding academic credit through a religiously-affiliated private school, reiterating that Zorach is good law and holding that released time programs, and the academic credit received for them, is an accommodation of the parents' right to choose the type of education their child receives. Although this case deals with South Carolina's Released Time statute, it does have precedential power in federal courts in Maryland.