Tennessee law would require schools to excuse students for religious instruction

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / An open area is located between two classrooms at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts Tuesday, December 3, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

A proposed law in Tennessee would require public schools to excuse students from class for up to one hour each school day so they can attend outside religious instruction.

A 2015 law already on the books allows school boards to adopt such a policy, but the updated bill - if passed in the coming week - would require students to be excused regardless of whether such a local policy exists. It also would allow local school districts to provide transportation to students for such instruction if available.

The bill, House Bill 2542/Senate Bill 2473, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jackboro, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, comes on the heels of a controversial decision made by the Knox County Board of Education last year.

In December 2019, the Knox County board voted against imposing additional restrictions and requirements on Bible Release Time and similar programs, despite concerns about what happens when some students are pulled from their classrooms for religious studies.