ACLU-MO History Spotlight: Release Time for Religious Instruction  

Release Time for Religious Instruction, 1940–1948

In the 1940s, the St. Louis city public school let students (with parental permission) participate in “release time,” which allowed them to go to church for class, with attendance counting as part of their school day. This created a conflict with the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

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Parental Authorization for Religious Instruction. From A study of weekday religious instruction in Saint Louis, Missouri / by Mabel Hawkins, A.M. WashU, 1941 Department of Education.

In March 1948, the Supreme Court ruled this practice unconstitutional, based on a case in Illinois. Immediately after this, the St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee filed Balazs v. Board of Education to end this practice in St. Louis.   

In St. Louis circuit court, Dr. Karl Balazs testified that his two children did not receive any educational instruction, while other students were released for religious instruction. 

The St. Louis School Board delayed the case until June, when they terminated the program. The court’s injunction ensured it was not restarted.

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Roger Baldwin congratulates the St. Louis Committee on its work about release time and sends support for ending segregated higher education.
From ACLU-MO Records (wua00355), Series 1, Sub-series 2, Box 1, Balazs v Board of Edu.

Find out More

Hawkins, Mable.  A study of weekday religious instruction in Saint Louis, Missouri (WashU, AM 1941 Department of Education).

Sullivan, Russell N. “Religious Education in the Schools.” Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 14, No. 1. Winter 1949. [full text available online]

McCollum v. Board of Education, 333US203 (1948).

Balazs v. Board of Education, No. 18369, Div. 3, Cir. Court, City of St. Louis (May 25, 1948).


ACLU-MO @ 100

This post is part of a series in recognition of the American Civil Liberty Union of Missouri’s centennial year (1920-2020). Read more stories at: https://library.wustl.edu/tag/ACLU-MO@100/

If you have a question about this post or other topics related to St. Louis history, I can be reached at mrectenwald@wustl.edu or on Twitter: @mrectenwald.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.