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Poll: Should Public School Students Receive Credits for Religious Instruction?

A recent federal court decision upheld the right in a case based in Spartanburg County.

Last week, in a South Carolina case, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously for a public student’s right to receive academic credit for outside religion courses, including those that espouse a particular religious viewpoint.  

The decision, from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld a South Carolina program which allows students to gain elective school credit for religion courses taken off-campus during school hours. 

In 2009, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Spartanburg School District 7 on behalf of two students (one atheist, one Jewish) over the Christian-focused program, claiming it was a violation of the establishment clause.

“[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment,” the court’s opinion stated.  “[The program] accommodates the ‘genuine and independent choices’ of parents and students to pursue [religious] instruction.”

The court basically ruled the program and its classes constitutional since it was held off-site and because students were not required to take them and were purely elective and met the district's and the state's academic requirements. The fact that the classes were Christian-focused and evangelical in nature was moot, the court declared.

“This is a big win for public school students and for religious education,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the school district, along with Spartanburg firm Lyles, Darr & Clark, LLP. “The court’s opinion shows that public schools can make room for student religious exercise.”

For more than 50 years, courts have routinely held that off-campus released time programs do not violate the Constitution by promoting religion, but merely accommodate the wishes of students and parents, according to the Beckett Fund.

Nationwide, more than 250,000 children in 32 states participate in released time programs each year. In South Carolina alone, more than 12,000 students attend released time classes each week, according to the Beckett Fund.

"We are very pleased by the outcome," said school district superintendent Russell Booker. "We are especially pleased that the Court recognized that the District has conscientiously complied with the Constitution in carrying out its mission of educating Spartanburg’s children."

What's your opinion? Should tax-supported, public school students be allowed to receive academic credits for private religious instruction? Take our poll below.

MM July 10, 2012 at 04:39 PM
The only exception I would make, would be for comparative religion classes for purposes of cultural studies and anthropology.
Sam Henline July 10, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I see no problem with it if atheists will get credit for going to atheist meetups or scientific lectures/seminars, and those who are theologically agnostic will get credit for well...nothing. Oh the stupidity of this makes my head hurt...
stanley seigler July 10, 2012 at 06:37 PM
@Sam Henline: "...agnostic will get credit for nothing. Oh the stupidity of this makes my head hurt..." if stupidity makes yo head hurt...you must be in constant, excruciating, pain...
JoSCh July 12, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The questions weren't very good for this poll. No. Teach it at home or in church. That's not what I pay taxes for. - This implies that tax dollars are going to pay for these outside of the building classes. I suspect they aren't. Yes. So long as students have a choice not to take such classes, and they do not promote a particular faith. - What does "promote" a particular faith mean? If it talks about a particular faith in a good light does that mean "promote?" If it attacks a faith should it be allowed? FWIW, I don't have a problem teaching about religion right in school, it's just philosophy. I do see how it can become a slippery slope quickly, one way or the other. Acting like it's not a part of life won't change that, and teaching about life is the point of school.
dana lee wichmann October 03, 2012 at 04:42 PM
No. In my history classes it was mentioned enough. It seemed to me at the time that religon was always present when bad things would happen. Even as a third grader I saw that religons are power grabs and the ignorant follow because they want to fit into the "club" that has the biggest club. I think that most join out of fear. That's why I'm an atheist.

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