Haas, 072348 PAAGO, AGO 584

Docket Nº:AGO 584
Case Date:July 23, 1948
Honorable Francis B. Haas
AGO 584
Opinion No. 584
Pennsylvania Attorney General Opinions
Opinions Of The Attorney General
July 23, 1948
         Schools—Religious instruction—Constitutional law—Instructions during regular sessionsUse of public school building after hoursReading of Holy Bible __ Act of May 20, 1913Released time programDismissed time programReligious history.          1. Religious instructions may not be given to public school pupils in public school buildings during a time when the public schools are in regular session.          2. Public school buildings may not be used for religious instruction or religious services by any one, or by groups of individuals, including public school pupils, when the schools are not in session.          3. The reading of the Holy Bible without comment by a teacher of the public school system in compliance with the Act of May 20, 1913, P. L. 226, is not the type of religious exercise or sectarian service which comes within the prohibition of our Constitution.          4. A released time program adopted under the provisions of section 1615 of the School Code, added by the Act of May 17, 1945, P. L. 629, is not violative of either the State or the Federal Constitution, if it does not involve the use of school buildings for religious purposes.          5. School directors may not close regular sessions at an earlier hour on certain days of the week in order to permit a dismissed time program.          6. The public schools may include in their curricula a study of the development of religion or church history as a part of a general course conducted by a public school teacher, taught objectively and not for the purpose of propagating particular religious doctrines or beliefs.          Honorable Francis B. Haas, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.          Sir: You have requested our advice on a number of specific questions regarding religious education in the public school system of Pennsylvania in view of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of People of State of Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign County, Ill., et al., decided March 8, 1948, 333 U. S. 203, 68 Sup. Ct.' 461, 92 L. Ed. 451, hereinafter referred to as the Champaign Case.          The facts in the Champaign case may be stated briefly as follows:          The school directors of the Champaign District had participated in a voluntary program with interested members of the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths, by which religious teachers, employed by private religious groups, were permitted to come weekly into the school buildings during the regular hours set apart for sectarian teaching, and then, and there, for a period of 30 minutes substituted their religious teaching for the secular education provided under the compulsory education law of Illinois. This program was not expressly authorized by statute. It was entirely voluntary. Students who did not choose to take the religious instruction were not released from public school duties. They were required to leave their classrooms and to go to some other place in the school building for the pursuit of their secular studies. Attendance at religious classes was required of pupils only with the consent of their parents. The petitioner charged that this program violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and the charge was sustained by the court.          In condemning this practice, the opinion of the court states (333 U. S. 209-211):
The foregoing facts, without reference to others that appear in the record, show the use of tax-supported property for religious instruction and the close cooperation between the school authorities and the religious council in promoting religious education. The operation of the state's compulsory education system thus assists and is integrated with the program of religious instruction carried on by separate religious sects. Pupils compelled by law to go to school for secular education are released in part from their legal duty upon the condition that they attend the religious classes. This is beyond all question a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith. And it falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment (made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth) as we interpreted it in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1. There we said: "Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or for professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to Support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa.***”
         Turning now to the Constitution of our State, we find that it includes several provisions which are relevant. Article I, Section 3, provides:
All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.
         Article X provides for the establishment and maintenance of a public school system within the Commonwealth and, Section 2 thereof provides:
No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.
         This prohibition against the use of public funds for sectarian religious purposes also appears in Article III, Section 18, which provides:
No appropriations, * * * shall be made for charitable, educational or benevolent purposes, to any person or community, nor to any denominational or sectarian institution, corporation or association.
         We answer the questions in the order presented:          I.          I MAY RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION BE GIVEN TO PUBLIC SCHOOL PUPILS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDINGS AT A TIME WHEN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE IN REGULAR SESSION?          The facts of the Champaign case squarely presented the situation in which religious instruction...

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