The NAE joined the Christian Legal Society, the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education and Advocates for Faith and Freedom in defending a South Carolina school district against a lawsuit related to the school’s accommodation of off-site religious classes.
In 2007, South Carolina passed the Release Time Credit Act, which gave public schools the freedom to allow students to take outside classes in religious instruction and receive elective credits. In 2009, The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the Spartanburg County School District claiming the policy violates the Establishment Clause. Though the school district was successful at the federal district court in South Carolina, The Freedom From Religion Foundation appealed the district court’s ruling, and the case is now in the Fourth Circuit.
The NAE argues that the Spartanburg School District does not endorse or entangle itself with religion or violate the Establishment Clause, since the classes are not run by the school and are held off-site. The school district accepts elective credits from religious classes in the same way that it accepts transfer credits from private schools in secular courses.
Barring the school district from accepting transfer credit for courses in the released time program would force a number of unwarranted, even unfair, effects for students choosing to participate in the program. Students wishing to enroll in an off-campus religious elective would be disadvantaged compared to their classmates who take secular electives. Refusing to accept transfer credit only for off-campus religious courses would also deter students from exploring their spiritual interests while rewarding students exploring non-spiritual interests, raising significant concerns under the Free Exercise Clause. Allowing the school district to accept credit for a released time program does not confer a special benefit to its participants; instead, it merely gives those students access to the same types of academic freedom available to other students.