The legality of off-campus Bible education during the school day has been challenged in our court systems. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling came in 1952 in Zorach vs. Clauson, where this method of religious instruction was upheld as being constitutional. While many people believe that the courts overturned such practices in the 1960′s, they are mistaken and there has been no adverse court ruling regarding off-campus religious instruction during the school day. This practice, with certain guidelines, is recognized as being totally within the framework of our constitution and is legal in all fifty states.
There are basically three guidelines that must be followed:
• classes must be held off school property
• no public funds may be used to finance such programs
• students must have signed parental permission to attend
The laws that govern the legality of BEST in South Carolina are posted below. If you would like to examine the laws of other states please visit releasedtime.org.
SECTION 59‑1‑460. Excused school attendance for religious
(A) The school district board of trustees may adopt a policy that authorizes a student to be excused from school to attend a class in religious instruction conducted by a private entity if:
- (1) the student’sparent or guardian gives written consent;
- (2) the sponsoringentity maintains attendance records and makes them available to the publicschool the student attends;
- (3) transportation toand from the place of instruction, including transportation for students withdisabilities, is the complete responsibility of the sponsoring entity, parent,or guardian;
- (4) the sponsoringentity makes provisions for and assumes liability for the student who isexcused; and
- (5) no public fundsare expended and no public school personnel are involved in providing thereligious instruction.
(B) It is the responsibility of a participating student to make up any missed schoolwork.
However, no student may be released from a core academic subject class to attend a religious instruction class. While in attendance in a religious instruction class pursuant to this section, a student is not considered to be absent from school.
SECTION 59‑39‑112. Elective credit for released time classes in
(A) 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 ofawarding elective Carnegie units, the released time classes in religiousinstruction are evaluated on the basis of purely secular criteria that aresubstantially the same criteria used to evaluate similar classes at establishedprivate high schools for the purpose of determining whether a studenttransferring to a public high school from a private high school will be awardedelective 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;
- (2) the decision toaward elective Carnegie units is neutral as to, and does not involve any testfor, religious content or denominational affiliation.
(B) For the purpose of subsection (A)(1), secular criteria may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- (1) number of hours ofclassroom instruction time;
- (2) review of thecourse syllabus which reflects the course requirements and materials used;
- (3) methods ofassessment used in the course; and
- (4) whether the coursewas taught by a certified teacher.
“South Carolina Laws Passed on Release-time Bible Education”
(A241, R293, H3048) – ENACTED MARCH 2001
AN ACT TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 59‑1‑460 SO AS TO ENACT THE “SOUTH CAROLINA RELEASED TIME FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION ACT” TO PROVIDE THAT A SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF TRUSTEES MAY ADOPT A POLICY THAT AUTHORIZES A STUDENT TO BE EXCUSED FROM SCHOOL UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS TO ATTEND A CLASS IN RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION CONDUCTED BY A PRIVATE ENTITY.
(A322, R352, S148) -ENACTED MARCH 2006
AN ACT TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 59‑39‑112 ENACTING THE “SOUTH CAROLINA RELEASED TIME CREDIT ACT” SO AS TO PROVIDE THAT 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 AND TO PROVIDE THAT THE RELEASED TIME CLASSES MUST BE EVALUATED ON THE BASIS OF PURELY SECULAR CRITERIA.
These laws can be accessed by going to www.scstatehouse.net, click on Title/Chapter List, click on the appropriate title (59 for both laws), and then the appropriate chapter within that title (1 and 39 respectively). Finally, scroll down within the chapter to the appropriate section (460 and 112 respectively).
* Recently, in a Supreme Court decision, off-campus religious education was upheld as constitutional in that “[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment.” (taken from The Becket Fund post.)
While SCBEST classes are taught from a Christian perspective, SCBEST does
not discriminate on the basis of race, age, sex, color, religion, national
origin, immigrant status, English speaking status, veteran status or disability
in the provision of educational opportunities and benefits.