The practice of “released time,” in which students are excused from their public school for a short period to attend religious instruction nearby, is authorized in Michigan state law and has the endorsement of both the Michigan Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
So ADF has written a letter to Supt. Ken Haggart of the Fremont, Michigan, school district insisting that the situation be corrected.
“Public schools shouldn’t defy the law simply to appease an ill-informed person’s complaint,” said Timothy Denney, the author of the letter and one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF. “If a parent provides a permission slip, release of a student for religious instruction is mandatory, not optional.”
The letter was prompted by the school district’s decision to eliminate the program, beginning in the fall term.
A local group, Bible Released Time, has been offering off-campus religious classes to students for several years, taught by instructors who are not affiliated with the school.
But ADF said after someone incorrectly complained to the district that it was “promoting religion,” the district decided to banish the practice, “even though the classes are lawful under both federal and state law.”
WND could not obtain comment from the district because its offices were closed Monday.
The letter notes that Michigan law states a district “shall” release a student if a parent provides a permission slip.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly referred approvingly to its decision to uphold off-campus religious released time classes,” the letter explains. “Moreover, the Supreme Court’s 1952 approval of released time classes is still being relied upon as valid. As recently as August of 2004, a high level federal court approved the same framework for religious released time classes that was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court over 50 years earlier.”
The letter explains ADF believes the district’s decision, “based on objections from outside third party groups and a non-custodial parent,” to forbid the students to attend the classes, is “unlawful.”
“We respectfully request it to be reversed immediately.”
“Under state law, written permission of a parent or guardian is required for students to attend the classes,” the letter continues. But if that is present, then “it is mandatory, not optional, for Michigan public schools to release students for released time religious instruction.”
“It is also worth noting that a very diverse group of organizations. Including the ACLU and the Christian Legal Society, have co-signed a ‘Joint Statement on Current Law on Religion and Public Schools’ which confirms that ‘schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided the schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend,'” the organization explains.
“As a result of the school’s decision, there have been several … media reports inaccurately suggesting that off-campus Bible released time classes are unlawful. Release for future classes should be reinstated immediately,” the letter to the school district states. “This shut-down should not be repeated. Also, the school should make it clear to media outlets that, after further investigation, the school has confirmed that allowing release of students for off-campus released time religious instruction is entirely consistent with state and federal law.”