Skipping school with your Bible: Religion released time classes growing in popularity
She complained that schools were too involved in released time seminary, telling anecdotes of counselors who believed they were advocates for the LDS church and students who were pressured into attending and were scorned if they chose not to attend.
"The public school's excessive entanglement with so-called release time must cease," Moore wrote, "not only because it creates an environment of group favoritism, which causes human suffering, resentment and divisiveness, but it coerces state employees to work on behalf of religion, a fact which some feel treads on their freedom of conscience."
Similarly, earlier this year, South Carolina schools won a major lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which challenged whether public schools could offer off-campus religious classes as electives for school credit. While the court upheld the state's public schools right to offer credit for off-campus religious electives, the case was appealed and is now headed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Though release time religious classes are still a topic of debate, many participants are grateful for these programs that allow their students to get a religious education while attending a publicly funded school.
"There is a tension for many parents who want their kids to receive some Bible-based education, who can't afford private schools and prefer to not home-school their children," said Breivik, executive director of School Ministries. "What released time Bible study does is relieve this tension for parents and allows them to have it both ways — their children receive religious education while receiving all the benefits of a public school education."
And Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the board at the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education, believes these kinds of programs are indicative of the American people.
"Our Founding Fathers knew that a relationship with God is important," Hecht said. "Our dollar bill says 'In God We Trust,' many courthouses have 'In God We Trust,' presidents take their oaths on a Bible. We believe in the freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion."
Back in Ontario, Calif., school officials are grateful for the efforts Genny Madison and her fellow members in the California Released Time Christian Education program have made.
"As a Christian woman, the Released Time Christian Education program is what I consider to be one of the most effective ways to bring about positive society and community changes — by spiritual education of the world's future leaders — our youth," said Lowanna Owens, a school official in Ontario, Calif.
The students seem just as satisfied. Anthony, a fourth-grader in California, wrote in a thank-you note to his release time teacher, "When it is Thursday, I look forward to coming to the trailer to learn about Jesus. I like the songs and the other things that we learn and do. When I am 80 years old, I will still remember my time in Released Time Christian Education."
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