As Howard Friedman reports, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied cert — that is, decided not to hear an appeal — in Moss v. Spartanburg County School District, a very important, and wrongly decided, case out of South Carolina involving a released time program for religious instruction.
The district court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals both upheld the constitutionality of a program in Spartanburg County schools that allows students to leave school for religion classes — Christian only, of course — and receive academic credit for them. The state of South Carolina has a law, the Released Time Credit Act, that explicitly allows this. It says:
A school district board of trustees may award high school students no more than two elective Carnegie units for the completion of released time classes in religious instruction as specified in Section 59-1-460 if:
(1) for the purpose of awarding elective Carnegie units, the released time classes in religious instruction are evaluated on the basis of purely secular criteria that are substantially the same criteria used to evaluate similar classes at established private high schools for the purpose of determining whether a student transferring to a public high school from a private high school will be awarded elective Carnegie units for such classes. However, any criteria that released time classes must be taken at an accredited private school is not applicable for the purpose of awarding Carnegie unit credits for released time classes; and
(2) the decision to award elective Carnegie units is neutral as to, and does not involve any test for, religious content or denominational affiliation.
This is very dangerous, and now that the courts have upheld it, I would expect many more states to follow suit. It allows school districts to do indirectly what they cannot do directly, like proselytize for Christianity, teach creationism and so forth. Our students don’t have enough time to adequately study the things they need to learn; we sure as hell shouldn’t be having them leave school to learn about their own religion. That’s what churches are for.
The 4th Circuit ruling now stands. It’s binding only in that circuit, technically, but it will still be used all over the country to justify the legality of such policies.