Supreme Court turns down Spartanburg cert

A loss for reason

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied a petition for a writ of certiorari by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Spartanburg co-plaintiffs, asking the court to rule against academic credit for release-time instruction in Spartanburg (S.C.) public schools.

The petition, filed by attorney George Daly of North Carolina, opposed this “delegation of governmental power to a religious school” as “an excessive entanglement of church and state” prohibited under court precedent.

“When the Supreme Court in the 1950s, misguidedly, approved release-time instruction — allowing religious instructors to offer off-campus religious instruction once a week to willing public school students, providing there is no school district involvement — we feel sure the court never imagined such students could receive academic credit,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Passing on a grade from release-time instruction involves substantial school involvement. This gives an unfair advantage to students belonging to the community’s dominant religion. What next? Students demanding extra credit because they’ve attended Sunday school?”

The facts involved students at Spartanburg high school who attended an off-campus “released time” religious class put on by an unaccredited bible school in a church next door to the high school. At the end of the semester the bible school sent grades to the accredited Oakbrook Preparatory School, which without review approved the grades and sent them on to the high school. The high school accepted the grades for academic credit without question. There was no involvement by an accrediting agency over the course work.

“Respondent has granted to a religious institution the governmental power to decide whether a course of religious instruction qualifies for public school academic credit, without any assurance that the religious institution will decide the matter on secular grounds only. The district testified that if Oakbrook grants academic credit for a course entitled Laboratory for Intercessory Prayer, it would accept the credit. Bar Mitzvah training and Mass qualify for academic credit, if Oakbrook says so,” wrote Daly in the petition. He called it a delegation of governmental power to a religious group forbidden under Larkin v. Grendel’s Den, 459 U.S. 116 (1982).

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in 2009. The petition was filed on Oct. 2. (Read the petition here.)

FFRF thanks its local plaintiffs, Robert and Melissa Moss, FFRF member Ellen Tillett, and George Daly, acting pro bono as attorney. A special thanks to FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. 

Click here to read all the documents and background about the lawsuit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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