A Released Time program is one in which—with parental approval—public schools release students for a part of the school day to attend off-site religious instruction offered by a private sponsoring group. It recognizes and reinforces the constitutionally protected right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.
Federal court decisions have provided three main guardrails that public schools must follow regarding what schools are allowed to do when accommodating and working with Released Time programs, and also what schools cannot do:
- Student attendance must be voluntary, with written parental permission,
- Instruction must take place off school grounds, and
- No state resources (taxpayer funds) may be expended.
“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs.” - Justice William O. Douglas, Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952)
Since its inception in 1914, millions of students from kindergarten through high school have participated in Released Time Religious Education. Currently hundreds of thousands of students participate in a Released Time program annually.
This Released Time education website was created by School Ministries, Inc., for educators, parents, and students interested in learning more about Released Time. School Ministries works to advance Religious Released Time Bible education across the country by assisting local communities in the creation, support, and growth of programs and promoting Released Time research, resources, training and awareness. For more information on School Ministries, please visit www.schoolministries.org.