Moss v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7
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In 2006, South Carolina passed legislation to allow public school students to take outside religious classes and receive elective credits. Thousands of public school children across the nation receive religious education through released-time classes, and the Supreme Court has allowed it since 1952.
The classes are provided off-campus by third parties unaffiliated with the public schools. South Carolina’s Released Time Credit Act (RTCA) made it easier for public schools to accommodate the religious interests of their students. In 2007, Spartanburg County School District No. 7 passed its own policy permitting released-time programs in compliance with state law.
In 2009, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the School District, claiming that the school’s policy violates the Establishment Clause. Becket successfully defended the school district in district court and in appeal, where the Fourth Circuit unanimously upheld the program saying, “[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment.”
In November 2012, the Supreme Court denied FFRF’s final appeal. “This is a big win for public school students and for religious education,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at Becket, who argued the case at the Fourth Circuit. “The Supreme Court’s rejection of this case is a blow against anti-religious legal theories that would treat religion with suspicion.”
The court’s decision has implications for released-time programs across South Carolina and throughout the country. It also affirms that private schools and public schools can work with each other for their students’ benefit.