Oklahoma joins states with “exemption laws” that allow children in grades 1 through 12 to depart school for religious education

Children in American public schools traditionally learned the three R's: reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, students in greater than half of U.S. states can learn a fourth R: religion.

Oklahoma is the most recent state to permit school boards to introduce “free periods”: extracurricular courses with religious or moral instruction that students in grades 1 through 12 can attend for a part of the varsity day with parental consent. Governor Kevin Stitt signed Bill 1425 right into a law approving this system, on June 5, 2024.

Oklahoma law requires school districts to determine policies that allow students to attend up to a few hours of exemption classes per week. Classes should be held in independent facilities that aren’t on school property. Teachers don’t have to be certified educators but must keep attendance records, and students are liable for making up missed classes.

In what’s prone to be a controversial move, the Satanic Temple – a non-theistic religious group that advocates the separation of church and state and concepts resembling rationality, compassion and bodily autonomy – announced the intention to supply courses on his Facebook account.

The release date may lead to debate, but is just not latest. Programs were proposed in New York City in 1905, but the primary program was not implemented until 1914 in Gary, Indiana. The variety of states with programs increased within the Thirties and '40s—and the problem soon reached the Supreme Court.

Two cases, two results

The first of two Supreme Court cases on exemption was decided in 1948. Controversy arose when an area board within the state of Illinois allowed Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic leaders to enter public schools and supply religious instruction to children whose parents consented to them missing regular classes to attend religious instruction.

In McCollum v. Board of EducationThe Supreme Court rejected this system for 2 reasons.

First, the judges ruled that this system improperly permitted the usage of tax-funded buildings for religious instruction, which violated the First Amendment to the Constitution – which states: “Congress shall make no law establishing a State religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Second, the Court invalidated this system since it provided invaluable, impermissible assistance to spiritual groups by helping them spread their faith.

Four years later, in Zorach v. ClausonThe Supreme Court examined the constitutionality of one other New York City exemption program that allowed public school students to be exempted from public school to attend religious classes off school grounds.

This time, the judges confirmed that state school authorities could accommodate parents' religious wishes by exempting their children from classes outside of faculty.

The court upheld the exemption because public schools aren’t used for religious instruction. The judges said that the exemption was consistent with the popularity of parental freedom of selection and control over the education of their children. The underlying law stays in place.

National Landscape

As in Ohio, South Carolina And TennesseeOklahoma law allows students to earn academic credit for these courses, although they can not take them rather than a core curriculum course. The law specifically directs school boards to determine standards under which waivers for these elective courses are eligible. The law also features a provision stating that faculty boards aren’t liable for students during extracurricular courses.

In total, 16 states – from California and Montana to Massachusetts and West Virginia – have laws and one state has a regulation that offers school authorities the chance to make regulations for allowing school-free classes.

In addition, authorities in eleven other states and Oklahoma are actually required to introduce exemption regulations.

The remaining 21 states and Washington DC don’t have school closing time laws, but parents or religious organizations can petition the local school board to implement such a program.

Questions that remain

Oklahoma's exemption laws are consistent with those of other states. However, two questions arise.

First, given the Satanic Temple's intention to supply classes, will supporters of this bill defend the suitable of minority religions to accomplish that?

Second, what impact does the break day have on learning?

As someone who teaches and researches legal topics Regarding religion and education, I readily acknowledge the worth of learning about religions. But at a time when academic achievement is lagging in lots of places, in some as a consequence of the pandemicwhy do children miss lessons about their very own faith after they can learn it outside of faculty – be it in church services, online classes, and even online?

I need to confess, though, that Zorach v. Clauson was my favorite case in elementary school, though I couldn't name it on the time. My classmates and I might finish early on Wednesdays at our Catholic elementary school in order that the general public school kids could have religion classes—the identical day that Carvel Ice Cream Parlors had their weekly two-for-one deal.

image credit : theconversation.com