To stop the defamation of the Jewish people... to secure justice and fair treatment to all
Background: Religious Liberty in America
Prayer in Public School
Religion in the Curriculum
Evolution vs. Creationism
Teaching About Religious Holidays
Religious Displays on School Property
Released Time Programs
Student Religious Clubs
Use of School Facilities by Outside Religious Organizations and Clubs
Distribution of Religious Materials by Students
Distribution of Religious Material and Proselytizing by Non-school Personnel
Dress Codes
Teachers' Religious Expression
ADL Can Help
Religion in the Public Schools RULE
Released Time Programs

General Rule: Released time programs 57 may be constitutional if the religious classes take place off school grounds, if no public school funds are expended, and if school officials or teachers do not promote program attendance through coercion or other means. 58

Are public schools required to enact released time programs? No. While a school may choose to enact a released time program, it is never required to do so.

Who bears the expense of released time programs? The religious organization that sponsors the program is responsible for all expenses. Such expenses include, but are not limited to, solicitation, applications, distribution of notices, and permission slips. The public school may not bear any of the program expenses nor participate in promoting the program. 59

May a religious organization rent school facilities for a released time program? A public school may not rent its facilities for such purposes. The location and timing of the religious classes, combined with the impressionable ages of the students, could create the erroneous impression of official school support for the program. Importantly, under any circumstances, a released time program may only take place off school premises. 60

What problems can arise when released time programs are instituted? A released time program must be structured to avoid any perception of public school promotion or endorsement of religious instruction. If any element of the program gives the impression of public school support for religion -- or if any actual support is given -- then the program will likely be struck down by the courts as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Further, students who choose not to participate in the program may feel isolated or ostracized. These programs can be divisive and may be unfair to children who adhere to religions which are too small to set up their own religious instruction classes or which do not participate in such programs. Also, released time programs disrupt classroom activities and detract from the time children need to master their school work. School officials should be sensitive to these problems and structure the released time program to avoid them. Alternatively, officials may simply choose not to implement released time programs at all.

Sample Scenario:

    Elementary School Parent Objects to Released Time Program as Unconstitutional
    An elementary school has instituted a "released time" religious education program. On Thursday afternoons, students are released from regular classes to attend religious classes conducted off school premises. Only students who have written requests from their parents may attend the religious classes, and nonparticipating students remain in their classroom for a silent reading period. Rebecca Segall is a nonparticipating student in the third grade. Rebecca's father objects to the released time program because he believes that the school is unconstitutionally supporting religious education, since public school teachers police the program's attendance and regular classroom activities come to a halt for the program. When school officials hear that Mr. Segall is planning on legally challenging the program, they call a meeting to discuss the issue.

    What conclusion should the school officials reach regarding Mr. Segall's claim?
    This released time program would likely be found constitutional since it takes place off school grounds, involves no expenditure of public funds, and is not promoted by school officials. The fact that regular class activities are suspended during the program, and that school personnel monitor possible truancy, is not sufficient to make the program unconstitutional. However, it is enough to be disruptive to the ordinary educational activity of the school, and on that basis alone, the school district should feel free not to continue the program.

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