U.S. Supreme Court declines to review constitutionality of awarding academic credit for off-campus religious education
According to heraldonline.com, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (VA, MD, NC, SC, WV) allowing Spartanburg School District 7 (SSD7) in South Carolina to issue academic credit to students for off-campus religious instruction through Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time. The suit was brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) on behalf of parents Robert Moss and Ellen Tillett.
FFRF argued that SSD7′s policy of awarding academic credit for off-campus religious instruction amounts to endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. SSD7 was represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and local counsel, which maintained that the school district’s policy was based on state law that allows elective credits for off-campus religious instruction as long as students are evaluated using secular criteria.”We were awfully confident after the first (court) ruling, so it was an affirmation of what we already knew, and that is we were operating within district policy and state law,” said SSD7 Superintendent Russell Booker. “This has been going on for some time, so it feels good because this is the end of the lawsuit.”
Commenting on the Supreme Court’s rejection of its petition for certiorari, FFRF’s co-founder, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said, “The only other relief we have is for the South Carolina legislature to intervene,” adding that a state intervention is unlikely. Decrying the Fourth Circuit’s decision as “unwise,” Gaylor said that FFRF thought the Supreme Court would be particularly interested in [the decision], but it’s a shame that this is still allowed to happen.”
Source: heraldonline.com, 11/14/12, By Lynne P. Shackleford
[Editor's Note: In July 2012, Legal Clips summarized the decision of the Fourth Circuit's three-judge panel in Moss v. SSD7, which affirmed a federal district court’s decision granting summary judgment to SSD7 on the ground that its policy allowing students to earn academic credit for off-campus religious instruction does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. After concluding that only one of the three plaintiffs had standing, the panel determined the school district’s policy survived the three-part test laid out in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971), which analyzed whether government conduct passes constitutional muster. In particular, the panel concluded there was no religious entanglement problem, as the school district’s released time policy relied exclusively on the provision of off-campus religious instruction by nongovernmental educators and passively accommodated the genuine and independent choices of parents and students to pursue such instruction.]