In a story from the Detroit Free Press
this week, a local school district admitted that it had made a mistake in handing out permission slips to students at an elementary school to attend off-campus weekly religious classes during school hours. The problem was not that the religious classes are being offered to the students, but that the school itself distributed the permission slips. The classes are taught and funded by an independent Christian group, RBM Ministries
This is perfectly legal, actually. It's called Released Time.
In the U.S., according to a unreferenced Wikipedia entry
, there are approximately 1,000 programs with over 250,000 students in Released Time programs. Based on legal rulings going back to the beginning of the 20th century
, school districts are allowed to set up programs where students can be taken from schools for 2 hours per week and given religious classes. School districts are not required to setup such programs. Those that do can't be involved in any way--they can't provide any facilities, money, transportation, or support of any kind. Parents even have to supply their own permission slips (which is what caused the problem at the Detroit-area school).
It seems that there are two areas of the country where this is most popular--New York, where Jewish students are a large portion of attendees of such classes, and in Utah (and surrounding areas) where the Mormons are heavy participants. There are many other places where this kind of program is in place, too.
For more information from national groups that sponsor, support and promote such programs, you can go to the websites of Released Time Education
, School Ministries, Inc.
, and Released Time Bible Education
. For an example of one program in Oregon, you can visit Prep4Kids
These programs are mostly non-controversial. There haven't been many complaints that I could find. Some problems, though, outlined by the Anti-Defamation League
(ADL), are that
“...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.”
The ADL advises to be “sensitive” of these problems in order to avoid them, or just not implement them at all.
These programs have been challenged in some places where they've been implemented, but not successfully.