• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld a released-time program on the grounds that the religious instruction did not take place on school property or require the expenditure of public funds, and there was no evidence that students were being pressured into attending the religious classes.

In Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education[case]Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education[Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education] (1948), the Court ruled that an on-campus released-time program violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In Zorach, the justices voted six to three to approve a New York program in which students with parental permission left campus to participate in religious activities while other students attended study hall. Speaking for the Court, Justice William O. DouglasDouglas, William O.;Zorach v. Clauson[Zorach v. Clauson] emphasized the need for religious accommodation and asserted that Americans “are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” The three dissenters argued that the location of the program was not the central issue, and they found that New York was using the coercive apparatus of the public school system in order to encourage religious activities. Douglas later repudiated his accommodationist statements in Zorach.Released time;Zorach v. Clauson[Zorach v. Clauson]

Although Zorach remains good law, released-time programs have largely been replaced by policies allowing religion-oriented students to have equal access to school facilities. In Board of Education v. Mergens[case]Board of Education v. Mergens[Board of Education v. Mergens] (1990), the Court approved of the Equal Access Act of 1984, which requires public secondary schools to permit students to voluntarily meet for religious activities if they are permitted to meet for other purposes.


Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education

Religion, establishment of

Religion, freedom of

Categories: History