STATUTES: Utah Code Annotated
The Utah compulsory attendance law (§ 53-24-1) requires that all children, ages 6-17 (inclusive), must attend a public school "or a regularly established private school during the regularly established school year of the district." A student may also comply with compulsory attendance if he is taught at home in the "same branches of study" as the schools in his district (§53-24-1 (b) (2)).There is no express statute either prohibiting or permitting public school students to participate in Released Time for religious instruction. However, a student may be excused from attendance if the reason for the absence is sufficient "to satisfy the Board of Education of the district in which the child resides" (54-24-1 (d)).
EDUCATION REGULATIONS: (Policy)
Released Time programs are allowed in the state of Utah and
governed by each local school district, subject to the
guidelines established in Lanner v. Wimmer, Infra (Utah State
Board of Education
CASES: Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F. 2d 1349 (1981)
In Lanner, the Court of Appeals held that Released Time programs permitting attendance at religious classes off school premises, do not per se offend the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses (Lanner, at 1357). The Court recognized that Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, which is still good law (Lanner, at 1358), declared that public schools may permit the released of students during school hours for attendance at religious classes. These religious classes, in addition, must be taught by religious teachers on private property and on public school premises (Lanner, at 1354).The Court concluded, We hold that except for the credit and the attendance-gathering procedure, neither the individual aspects of the Released Time program nor the cumulative effect of the various aspects of the program violate the Establishment Clause (Lanner, at 1359).. Since die Utah Released Time program was substantially similar to the program in Zorach, the Utah program was declared constitutional. The public school's gathering of religious instruction attendance slips (which had been prepared and provided by the public school) and the granting of state credit for the religious instruction had to be discontinued because it violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. The Court found that "less-entangling" alternatives could replace the present entangling procedures of Released Time attendance. Note that in Lanner, credit was disallowed because the state policy required that the religious instruction be non-sectarian, which placed the State in the Constitutionally impermissible position of judging religious content. Credit may be allowed if the determination is based on objective criteria such as teacher qualification. ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS: None
Released Time organizations in the state of Utah
Like your state, many do not have specific laws or guidelines concerning Released Time. The absence of a specific law does not necessarily prohibit Released Time programs. In fact, it may allow a wider range of Released Time programs. For example, it is possible to offer Released Time classes as an off-campus elective class on the High School or Junior High level, which students take daily. This is being done in states such as Georgia, Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho.
The particular challenge in your state is that in the absence of a specific statute, you will need to conduct research into the legal background of Released Time at the federal level (FCRTM can help!), and how decisions are made within your school system. The majority of school districts would require approval at the school board level, but many are moving to "site-based management,' which would perhaps allow individual school principals to approve a Released Time program. Once your research is complete, you will need to approach the appropriate decision-maker(s) with a proposal for a Released Time class.
Even with the Supreme Court decision of 1952 (Zorach vs. Clauson), we must remember that approval for a Released Time program is a privilege, not a right. School principals and school boards may accommodate a Released time program, but they are not required to do so. Experience teaches us that a carefully crafted approach, coupled with a positive relationship with school officials will usually open the doors for a Released Time program.
The Fellowship of Christian Released Time Ministries
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