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Justices Decline Case on 'Released Time' for Religion

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear the appeal of parents who challenged a South Carolina school district's program of "released-time" for off-campus religious instruction with public school credit.

The Spartanburg, S.C., district started the program after the state passed a law in 2006 authorizing academic credit in the public schools for released-time instruction in private religious schools.

The program was challenged by a family of non-Christians who received a promotional flier through Spartanburg High School for the released-time program at Spartanburg Bible School. The family said the district's alleged "Christian favoritism" made them feel like outsiders.

The challenge to the program, backed by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the basic concept of released-time for religious instruction, in its 1952 decision in Zorach v. Clausen. But the provision of academic credit for the religious instruction in the student's public school was an unconstitutional government establishment of religion, the challengers argued.

In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., unanimously upheld the Spartanburg district's program, which was defended by the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The court said the district was able to accommodate the wishes of religious families without having to directly assess the quality of the private school's offerings. The unaccredited Bible school submits its courses for approval through an accredited private religious school, court papers say.

The Supreme Court declined without comment to hear the parents' appeal in Moss v. Spartanburg County School District (Case No. 11-415).

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