A Century of Released Time Bible Education

| December 3, 2014

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One of the least known of the tools available for evangelism and Bible education for young people is Released Time – Bible classes taught at a time set aside during the school day when public school students, with parental permission, leave the school premises to attend religious education classes.  If your question is, “Really?” – the answer is, “Yes.” It is projected that across the nation more than 350,000 students in grades K-12 are attending a Released Time Bible Education (RTBE) class near their school campus.  In two states high school students can now even receive credit for their studies.

The idea dates to 1914, when Dr. William Wirt, an innovative educator and school superintendent in Gary, Indiana established a program in which 619 students participated in off-campus religious education.  The idea quickly spread throughout the United States.  In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Released Time programs as constitutional and legal in the case of Zorach v. Clauson.   The three constitutional requirements for RTBE are: (1) parental permission must be given, (2) instruction must take place off school grounds, and (3) no state resources may be used.

A nationally recognized leader in assisting RTBE programs strengthen and grow is School Ministries, Inc., which is headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina.  School Ministries has established a template for local organizations to organize and operate a Released Time program for public schools students.  SMI (which was created in 1990) provides the necessary legal documents, administrative materials, program support, access to insurance, and direction for starting new Released Time programs and supporting existing ones throughout America.

Released Time Bible EducationThis year, SMI hosted a national conference at The Cove (the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina), to mark 100 years of Released Time Bible Education.  The report from representatives across America is that the ministry is growing at an increasing pace.  In the words SMI Executive Director Kenneth Breivik:  There is a driving need for American churches to renew their commitment to young people, and Released Time Bible Education is the most effective way of reaching children who otherwise would never enter a church.

Information about Released Time and School Ministries is available by calling their national office headquarters at 803-772-5224 or by visiting their websites: Released Time and School Ministries is available.


Category: Non-Profits