(Washington D.C., July 1, 2011) The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing an appeal of a case challenging the issuance of academic credit for religious classes taught as part of the “released-time” program in Spartanburg, South Carolina’s public schools, as a violation of the separation of church and state.
“The Spartanburg school district’s awarding of public school class credit for religious instruction violates the Establishment Clause because the district is attempting to encourage students to take these classes by awarding credit for doing so,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This amounts to an unconstitutional government promotion and endorsement and of the religious content of the classes.”
Although the Supreme Court ruled in a 1952 case that public schools can permit students to be released for off-campus religious instruction during the school day, it clearly stated in that case that public school officials cannot attempt to persuade students to participate in such a program.
The amicus brief argues that the history of Spartanburg’s released time program makes it clear that the school district’s intent in adopting a policy in 2007 awarding credit for released time religious classes was to generate student interest. Prior to 2007, student participation in the program had dwindled to the extent that it was stopped due to lack of interest. The brief also argues that the released time program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The program discriminates on the basis of religion because it does not permit non-religious students to be released from class for comparable outside secular ethical instruction during the school day.
“This is a prime example of the negative impact religious dogma has when entangled with public education,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “When religious teaching is endorsed, distracting the focus from curriculum necessities such as English, Math and Science, the students lose. Our country need not tolerate such a trade-off.”
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular Americans by challenging violations of the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and freethinkers.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.