Public schools are allowed to release schoolchildren for religious education at the request of their parents in an effort to accommodate the faith and wishes of parents. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1975, residents of Harrisonburg, Virginia sued their school board. The lawsuit questioned the school’s practice of releasing students from school to receive religious instruction.
The Virginia Council of Churches had been providing religious instruction for Harrisonburg schoolchildren since 1923. In 1963, the classes moved from the public school classroom to off-campus trailers. For about an hour a week, 27 classes of elementary school children, with the consent of their parents, walked out of class and into the awaiting trailers. Those who did not opt-into the program, simply stayed behind.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit approved of the release time program for religious instruction. The court explained that the school was merely accommodating the wishes, and religious beliefs, of parents. Any effect of the city aiding religious instruction was merely incidental to their administration of public education. Parents, the court recognized, had the responsibility for the education of their children, including religious education. It’s the state’s responsibility to respect and accommodate the parents.
If parents want religious instruction to be a part of that education, the Constitution provides the space for the state to so accommodate. By releasing children for religious instruction at the request of their parents, public schools show respect for the religious beliefs of their community.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.