Monday, March 23, 2009

On-Campus Released Time Program Enjoined

In H.S. v. Huntington County Community School Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22488 (ND IN, March 19, 2009), an Indiana federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendation and issued a preliminary injunction barring released-time religious classes on school property during school instructional time. At issue was the released time program at Horace Mann Elementary School in Huntington County (IN). Religious classes there were offered in a trailer owned by a church organization. The trailer was driven to the school and parked in its parking lot. School officials claimed that there is no reasonable way to park the trailer off premises and conduct the released time program in its current time allotment.

After concluding that plaintiff, a parent of a Horace Mann student, has standing, the court went on to find that plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits of her Establishment Clause claim. In reaching that conclusion, the court relied largely on Supreme court decisions in McCollum v. Board of Education and Lemon v. Kurtzman. The school argued that for safety purposes, the trailer needed to be located on campus. The court agreed that while this was an appropriate secular motivation, nevertheless the arrangement would be seen by a reasonable observer as an unconstitutional endorsement of religious doctrine.