Federal judge backs off-campus religious class

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — A federal judge has upheld a Spartanburg school district’s program to give credit to students who take an off-campus religious class.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reported that on April 5, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Herlong agreed to allow Spartanburg District 7 to continue to offer credit for students who participate in the Bible education class.

The course has been offered by Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time at a church next to Spartanburg High School since 2007.

Robert Moss, Ellen Tillett and the Freedom from Religious Foundation sued in 2009, saying that giving credit violates the First Amendment separation of church and state.

South Carolina law allows credit if the evaluation is based on secular criteria and no public money is used.

Herlong ruled in Moss v. Spartan County School District No. 7 that the plaintiffs’ “allegations fail to establish that the adoption and implementation of the School District’s released time policy has the principal effect of advancing religion.”

“Viewed from the perspective of an objective observer, the School District’s policy does no more than merely accommodate students’ desire to partake in religious instruction,” he wrote. “The School District, therefore, has remained faithful to the Establishment Clause throughout the adoption and implementation of its released time policy.”

Moss and the others say they plan to appeal the decision.

First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.