While Utah state law does not specifically address Released Time, regulations adopted by the Utah Board of Education gives each local school the option permitting students to participate in Released Time upon receiving a written request from a parent. Students may be released for up to one hour per week. The regulations also permit schools to grant elective credit for participation in Released Time classes.
In addition, any Released Time program would also need to ensure compliance with the court approved guidepost 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.
An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district has authority to 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.
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.
Utah Code Ann. § 53G-6-702(5)
“In accordance with Title 63G, Chapter 3, Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act, the state board shall make rules for purposes of dual enrollment to govern and regulate the transferability of credits toward graduation that are earned in a private or home school.”
Utah Admin. Code R277-610-3
“(1) A student may attend released-time classes during the regular school day only upon the written request of the student’s parent or legal guardian.
(2) A public school may not maintain records of attendance for released-time classes or use school personnel or school resources to regulate such attendance.
(a) A teacher of a released-time class is not a member of the public school faculty.
(b) A released-time teacher may participate in school activities as a community member.
(4) A public school teacher, administrator, or other official may not request teachers of released-time classes to exercise functions or assume responsibilities for the public school program which would result in a commingling of the activities of the school and the released-time class sponsor.
(a) A public school class schedule or course catalog may not include a released-time class by name.
(b) At the convenience of the school, a registration form may contain a space for a released-time designation.
(6) A public school publication may not include pictures, reports, or records of released-time classes.
(7) Public school personnel may not participate in released-time classes during work hours.
(8) A released-time class may not use school resources or equipment.”
Utah Admin. Code R277-610-4
“(1) A religious class may not be held in school buildings or on school property in any way that permits public money or property to be applied to, or that requires public employees to become entangled with, any religious worship, exercise, or instruction.
(2) Religious released-time scheduling shall take place on forms and supplies furnished by the religious institution and by personnel employed or engaged by the institution and shall occur off public school premises.
(a) A public school may not connect bells, telephones, computers or other devices between public school buildings and institutions offering religious instruction, except as a convenience to the public school in the operation of its own programs.
(b) When any connection of devices is permitted, the costs shall be borne by the respective institutions.
(4) Records of attendance at religious released-time classes, grades, marks, or other data may not be included in the correspondence or reports made by a public school to parents.
(a) Institutions offering religious instruction are private programs or schools separate and apart from the public schools.
(b) Those relationships that are legitimately exercised between the public school and any private school are appropriate with institutions offering released-time classes, so long as public property, public funds, or other public resources are not used to aid such institutions.
(6) A public school may grant elective credit for religious released-time classes if the public school establishes neutral, non-entangling criteria with which to evaluate the released-time courses.”
1969 Utah Op. Att’y Gen. No. 99
“In the Zorach case of 1952, the United States Supreme Court upheld a released-time program. In that case, the children were permitted to leave the school grounds to go to religious centers of instruction to obtain religious education. Such is part of the released-time program in Utah. Students not released remained in their classrooms. Such is also part of the released-program in Utah. And all costs of the operation were paid by the religious organization. Such is also part of the released program in Utah. The majority opinion refused to find a violation of either the free exercise or the establishment clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and indicated that no all relationships between state education and religion were prohibited. However, two excerpts from the opinion are important:
1. . . . Governor may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force [*7] one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence. The government must be neutral when it comes to competition between sects. It may not thrust any sect on any person.
2. In the McCollum case, the classrooms were used for religious instruction, and the force of the public school was used to promote that instruction.
Therefore, the present status of the opinions of the United States Supreme Court is that not all forms of released-time programs violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Since the free exercise and establishment clauses of the Utah State Constitution be noted, however, that the Utah State Constitution in its prohibitions against state support of religious activity goes beyond the restrictions contained in the United States Constitution:
1. The rights of conscience shall never be infringed. The State shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office of public trust or for any vote at any election; nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror on account of religious belief or the absence thereof. There shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment. No property qualification shall be required of any person to vote, or hold office, except as provided in this Constitution.
2. The Legislature shall make laws for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all children of the State, and be free from sectarian control.
3. The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of the uniform system of public schools, which shall be open to all children of the State, and be free from sectarian control.
4. Neither religious nor partisan test or qualification shall be required of any person, as a condition of admission, as teacher or student, into any public educational institution of the State.
5. Neither the Legislature nor any county, city, town, school district or other public corporation, shall make any appropriation to aid in the support of any school, seminary, academy, college, university or other institution, controlled in whole, or in part, by any church, sect or denomination whatever.
Thus, the Utah State Constitution clearly seems to contemplate a formidable wall of separation between church and state.”
The opinion also states that “although the Utah State Constitution is more specific in some instances than the United States Constitution with respect to public education and religion, the language of the Utah State Constitution would not appear to prohibit a properly conducted released-time program i.e., so long as the denominated religion involved did not exercise any control over public education or so long as the released-time program was not otherwise contrary to the free exercise and establishment clauses of the Utah State Constitution.”
Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349, 1357 (10th Cir. 1981)
In Lanner, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Released Time programs in Utah permitting attendance at religious classes off school premises, did not offend the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. The court recognized that Zorach v. Clausen, permits the release of students during school hours for attendance at religious classes. Id. at 1358. These religious classes must be taught by religious teachers on private property. Id. at 1354. The court concluded that “neither the individual aspects of the Released Time program nor the cumulative effect of the various aspects of the program violate the Establishment Clause.” Id. at 1359.
Since the Utah Released Time program was substantially similar to the program in Zorach, the Utah program was declared constitutional. However, the court struck down two aspects of the program because they created too much entanglement between the school and the Released Time program.
First, the court determined that, although it was permissible for a school to prepare uniform attendance slips for a Released Time program to use to track student attendance, it created too much entanglement to have school personnel travel to the Released Time location to gather the attendance slips. The better alternative is for Released Time personnel to deliver the completed slips to the school.
Second, the schools recognized Released Time classes as elective credit, as custodial credit, as credit required for extra-curricular activities, and as credit used to determine the school’s eligibility for state financial aid. However, the school district would not award credit for “courses devoted mainly to denominational instruction.” The court held that granting credit for religious coursework is not unconstitutional in itself, just as it is permissible to recognize credits earned at a private religious school. The problem with the policy at issue was that it only awarded credit for programs that were not “denominational.” This standard impermissibly required the school to monitor the religious courses and determine what is overly denominational and what it is not. The court stated that the key for awarding credit for Released Time programs was for the school to have secular standards by which to measure the courses.
*The rulings of the 10th Circuit of Appeals are binding precedent in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.