Sunday, June 18, 2006

South Carolina Released Time Credit Act Becomes Law

On June 2, the governor of South Carolina signed the state's Released Time Credit Act which permits high schools to give students an elective credit for participating in off-site religion classes. (See prior postings 1, 2.) Here are excerpts from the text of the new law:

Whereas, the South Carolina General Assembly finds that: ...The free exercise of religion is important to the intellectual, moral, civic, and ethical development of students in South Carolina, and that any such exercise must be conducted in a constitutionally appropriate manner.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina: Section 59-39-112. (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 ... if:

(1) ... the released time classes ... are evaluated on the basis of purely secular criteria that are substantially the same criteria used to evaluate similar classes at established private high schools for the purpose of determining whether a student transferring to a public high school from a private high school will be awarded elective Carnegie units for such classes.... and

(2) the decision to award elective Carnegie units is neutral as to, and does not involve any test for, religious content or denominational affiliation.

(B) For the purpose of subsection (A)(1), secular criteria may include, but are not limited to ... (1) number of hours of classroom instruction time; (2) review of the course syllabus ...; (3) methods of assessment used in the course; and (4) whether the course was taught by a certified teacher.

The State reports that now released time groups are quickly moving to get more high schools to approve their programs.