4th Circuit Rules for Student’s Right to Receive Religious Education

Image: 4th Circuit Rules for Student’s Right to Receive Religious Education

Federal judge vindicates school credit for released time 

CONTACT: Emily Hardman, 202.349.7224

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously for student’s right to receive credit for religion courses, signaling a tremendous victory for religious education across the country.  The decision, from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld a South Carolina program which allows students to gain elective school credit for religion courses taken off-campus during school hours. In 2009 Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the school district over the program, claiming it was a violation of the establishment clause.

“[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment,” the court’s opinion states.  “[The program] accommodates the ‘genuine and independent choices’ of parents and students to pursue [religious] instruction.”

“This is a big win for public school students and for religious education,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the school district, along with Spartanburg firm Lyles, Darr & Clark, LLP. “The court’s opinion shows that public schools can make room for student religious exercise.”

For more than 50 years, courts have routinely held that off-campus released time programs do not violate the Constitution by promoting religion, but merely accommodate the wishes of students and parents.  Nation-wide, more than 250,000 children in 32 states participate in released time programs each year.  In South Carolina alone, more than 12,000 students attend released time classes each week.

“We are very pleased by the outcome,” says Dr. Russell W. Booker, superintendent of Spartanburg County School District No. 7. “We are especially pleased that the Court recognized that the District has conscientiously complied with the Constitution in carrying out its mission of educating Spartanburg’s children.”

The Court’s decision has implications for released time programs across South Carolina and throughout the country. It also affirms the constitutionality of the relationship between private schools and public schools.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government at the U.S. Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.    For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

Additional Information:

Case Page
4th Circuit Opinion (June 28, 2012)
4th Circuit Oral Arguments (Audio Recording) (March 20, 2012)