By Matt Sharpe, Attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom
Students aren’t the only ones heading back to class. Across the country, released time volunteers are preparing lessons, gathering supplies, and planning activities as their weekly released time Bible classes start up again with a fresh crop of eager young students ready to hear the Gospel.
But for some programs, the resumption of classes comes with anxiety as workers seek to navigate the sometimes confusing labyrinth of the law as it relates to released time. Are we operating legally? Are we allowed to pass out flyers? Can our students share what they learned with their friends when back on campus?
“Be anxious for nothing,” Paul teaches in Philippians 4:6, because not only is God on your side, but so is the law.
For over 60 years, the Supreme Court has recognized the constitutionality of released time programs, describing the cooperation between schools and religious organizations like yours to allow students to receive religious education as “the best of our traditions.”
Most of us know that the law generally requires that released time programs operate off-campus and that they avoid financial support from schools. But just because the instruction must occur off-campus does not mean that your program can’t find creative ways to be involved and promote your program on campus. Under the legal principle of “equal access,” released time programs must be given the same access to advertising methods, open house nights, and other opportunities that the school gives to other community groups. In other words, if local sports leagues or scouting groups are allowed to distribute flyers to students or set up a table at the school’s open house, your released time program has a constitutionalright to do so.
So be bold when asking school officials for equal access, because an open door for other groups creates an open door for you.
Encourage your students to be bold as well. Because the Constitution also protects their right to share their faith at school as long as it doesn’t disrupt educational activities. They can pray over their meals, read their Bible during free time, and even hand out flyers inviting their classmates to released time.