Between a Righteous Citizenship and the Unfaith of the Family: The History of Released Time Religious Education in the United States Open Access

Cocar, Remalian (2011)

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Between a Righteous Citizenship and the Unfaith of the Family: The History of
Released-Time Religious Education in the United States
This dissertation seeks to understand an important program of religious
instruction called released time education. During their school day, public school
students with parental permission took religious classes. This happened as they
were released from the care of the public school for one hour. Released time
began in Gary, Indiana in 1913. By the 1940s, it was estimated that over two
million students in the United States participated in released time education.
The main force behind released time education was a group of Mainline
Protestants who were concerned with the prospects of young people receiving
religious beliefs from Sunday School, their parents, or public schools. This study
uncovers the commitment to released time education that most Mainline
Protestants had well into the early 1950s. Although by the early 1960s Mainline
Protestants would change course and drop their support for any type of religion
within the public schools, they remained ardent and steadfast supporters of
released-time education well into the mid-1950s. Catholics also joined in the
program. In many cities, they provided a separate class for Catholic students.
This was one of the first times in American history where Protestants and
Catholics cooperated together.
The opposition to released time coalesced in the 1940s and resulted in two
major Supreme Court cases. Major groups that opposed released time were the
American Civil Liberties Union, the Baptist Joint Committee, and Jewish-
American groups. In McCollum v. Illinois (1948), the Supreme Court ruled that
released time was unconstitutional. But, in Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the
Supreme Court reversed itself claiming that the earlier McCollum decision only
meant that released time education could not take place in public school
buildings. This project tries to make sense of these seemingly contradictory
decisions. A large part of the sea change both in Protestant sentiment and in the
Supreme Court decisions seemed to have been caused by anti-Catholicism. These
decisions were also part of a larger shift in First Amendment jurisprudence that
would lead to the elimination of school prayer by 1962, in Engel v. Vitale.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
One: The Formative Years 11
Two: The Spread of Released-Time Religious Education 57
Three: The McCollum Case 93
Four: The Zorach Case 135
Five: Opponents, Engel, Released-Time, 1952-2000 166
Epilogue 202
Bibliography 208

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