For 70 years, California students have been allowed to leave campus for an hour each week to attend religious education classes through the Released Time Christian Education program. Sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the classes are taught by volunteers, usually in specially designed busses or at nearby, non-public facilities.
Organizers of the California programs are working with State Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) on Senate Bill (SB) 1457, a bill that would allow high-schoolers to earn elective credits for these classes to go towards their graduation. His bill, The Parental Choice for Released Time Credit Act, is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education Committee on March 30.
In introducing the bill, Morrell secured two Democrat co-authors, Senator Jim Beall of Campbell and Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown of San Bernardino. Brown is the primary co-author in the Assembly. Another Assembly co-author is Brian Dahle of Redding. A rarity in politically divided Sacramento, the bipartisan support increases the chances that SB 1457 will advance, although some members of the Education Committee, including Chairwoman Carol Liu (D-Glendale), have indicated their opposition to all religious instruction.
On the national level, more than 250,000 students in 1,000 programs across 30 states participate in Released Time programs, which are initiated by parents, held outside of school property, and funded entirely by individuals and religious organizations. A 1952 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Released Time programs, so long as the classes are not held on school district property. Although Christians have chiefly taken advantage of these programs, they are open to members of any other religious tradition, such as Judaism or Islam.
The benefits of the program extend far beyond growth in religious knowledge. In a 2003 study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Oakland students who participated in the Released Time program performed better than non-enrolled students in almost every academic category, and showed significant increases in three major literacy skills, according to findings from School Ministries. The positive moral and character development afforded through the program provide positive interaction for youth considered at-risk for delinquency, the study found.
Administrators also cite a study from the Commission on Children at Risk which found that youth who regularly participate in religious activities like Released Time Bible Education showed improved relationship skills, self-confidence, regard for others, coping skills and self-purpose. They also demonstrated a reduction in risk-taking behaviors.
California schools routinely award graduation credit for curricula that promote promiscuity, birth control, abortion, LGBT causes, and Eastern philosophies such as yoga and “mindfulness.” If SB 1457 becomes law, California schools could instead recognize an elective that leads to increased academic performance and more peaceful campuses.
Detailed Bill Summary: SB 1457 (Morrell R-Rancho Cucamonga) Pupil instruction: high school graduation requirements: credit for released time instruction.
Existing law allows pupils, with the written consent of their parents or guardians, to be excused from school in order to participate in religious exercises or to receive moral and religious instruction.
This bill would authorize the governing board of a school district to adopt a policy to allow a pupil in high school to earn up to 2 elective credits toward that pupil’s high school graduation requirements for the completion of released time instruction. The bill would require the policy to state that a pupil may receive elective credit for the completion of released time instruction only if specified conditions are met. The bill would require the policy to include secular criteria for determining whether to authorize a pupil to earn credit for these classes. These criteria will be substantially the same criteria used to evaluate a similar nonpublic high school course for the purpose of determining whether to award credit for that course to a pupil transferring from a nonpublic high school to a public high school. The bill would require a decision to award credit for released time instruction to be neutral to, and not involve any test for, religious content or denominational affiliation, and would prohibit school district staff and faculty from encouraging or discouraging participation by pupils in released time instruction. The bill would require that an absence for released time instruction not be deemed an absence in computing average daily attendance.