State of

Released Time Laws and Guidelines for the state of Virginia

STATUTES: Virginia Code

The Virginia compulsory attendance law (section 22.1-254) requires that all children; ages 5-16 (inclusive), must attend a public school "or a private, denominational or parochial school." Parents may, as an alternative, have their children receive their education from a tutor or provide for the home instruction of their children.

There is no express statute either prohibiting or permitting public school students to be released to attend religious instruction. According to section 22.1-257 (2), a student may be excused from attendance if he, together with his parents, is "conscientiously opposed to attendance at school" by reason of bona fide religious belief. This statute may possibly be applied to permitting Released Time in Virginia public schools.


Each school district may establish its own Released Time program subject to the guidelines of Smith v. Smith, infra. (Virginia Department of Education, Richmond, 804-2252029). Excusing a student is up to the discretion of the local school board.


Smith v. Smith 523 F. 2d 121 (1975) Cert. Denied 423 U.S. 1073 In Smith, an action was brought to challenge a Released Time program whereby public school students were released during school hours for religious instruction off school premises by a nonprofit organization supported by a council of churches. The U.S. Court of Appeals held that it was their duty to follow the Zorach v. Clauson test (343 U.S. 306, (1952)) which held that the Released Time programs for religious instruction were constitutional as long as they did not involve public funds or take place on public school property (Smith, at 123).

The Harrisonburg Released Time program, therefore, was constitutional since it 1) had a secular purpose in accommodating the wishes of the parents, 2) did not excessively entangle the state with religion since the religious instruction did not take place in the class rooms, and 3) its primary effect neither advanced nor inhibited religion. The Court concluded,

.public school cooperation with the religious authorities in Zorach and the instant case is a largely passive and administratively wise response to a plenitude of parental assertions of the right to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control (Smith, at 125).

Thus public school cooperation with Released Time programs for religious instruction is constitutional and "administratively wise."


Released Time organizations in the state of Virginia

Council of Weekday Religious Education
(703) 674-5966

Virginia Weekday Religious Education
Clifton Forge
(703) 862-3606

Weekday Religious Education


Like your state, many do not have specific laws or guidelines concerning Released Time. The absence of a specific law does not necessarily prohibit Released Time programs. In fact, it may allow a wider range of Released Time programs. For example, it is possible to offer Released Time classes as an off-campus elective class on the High School or Junior High level, which students take daily. This is being done in states such as Georgia, Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho.

The particular challenge in your state is that in the absence of a specific statute, you will need to conduct research into the legal background of Released Time at the federal level (FCRTM can help!), and how decisions are made within your school system. The majority of school districts would require approval at the school board level, but many are moving to "site-based management,' which would perhaps allow individual school principals to approve a Released Time program. Once your research is complete, you will need to approach the appropriate decision-maker(s) with a proposal for a Released Time class.

Even with the Supreme Court decision of 1952 (Zorach vs. Clauson), we must remember that approval for a Released Time program is a privilege, not a right. School principals and school boards may accommodate a Released time program, but they are not required to do so. Experience teaches us that a carefully crafted approach, coupled with a positive relationship with school officials will usually open the doors for a Released Time program.

Information provided by:

The Fellowship of Christian Released Time Ministries

5722 Lime Ave. ˜ Long Beach, CA 90805

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