Lawmakers clarify process of religious 'released time' programs

Lawmakers clarify process of religious 'released time' programs

Lawmakers clarify process of religious 'released time' programs

The Oklahoma Legislature has passed a bill that deals with students leaving campus during the school day to study religion.


Twenty-six states have approved Religious Released Time programs, and Representative Clay Staires (R-Dist. 66) says the Oklahoma House has now approved HB 1425 and sent it to Governor Kevin Stitt's (R) desk to be signed into law.

The lawmaker says the bill is four-fold.

Staires, Rep. Clay (R-Oklahoma) Staires

"Point number one, it is currently in Oklahoma law that students can be excused for religious purposes, including religious classes [and] religious education," Rep. Staires begins. "Point number two, the problem is that there is no clarity on how to implement that law."

In other words, there is no instruction on how long the students can leave, how often they can leave, or where they go when they leave their public school campus. HB 1425 helps set those guidelines.

Students are not allowed to leave during core classes; they are only allowed to miss electives. Most of the programs that are going on are in the elementary grades, and those kids are going during lunch or their recess period.

Also, the schools are not responsible for promoting the program. That would have to come from parents telling the schools they want their kids to be dismissed from school for their religious education.

"What we have done, step number three, is we've gone back to a Supreme Court ruling all the way back in 1952, Zorach vs. Clauson, where the Supreme Court had a decision that a student leaving school for religious purposes is constitutional," Staires details. "In that decision, they gave instructions on how to do it."

The bill's fourth step was to take those instructions from the U.S. Supreme Court and apply them to existing Oklahoma statutes.

The measure was met with pushback from groups like the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which said the bill would usurp local control "by requiring local school boards to award credit for instruction provided by an independent and unsanctioned entity."

Rep. Staires reportedly chalked up those objections to a "misunderstanding" about Oklahoma's Bill of Rights.

He reiterates that HB 1425 does not "allow" anything new; it simply clarifies current law.