Neighbors and the Tragic Commons

I had a long talk with a friend and colleague about the experience of being not Mormon in the midst of Mormondom. One example this friend provided of a frustration with the institution of Mormonism is the presence of Seminary buildings adjacent to the campuses of public secondary schools and the existence of so-called “released-time” in which non-participants are ghetto-ized while participants receive their religious education without any additional time commitment on their part.

By way of confession and disclaimer, I have a memory of a ninth grade seminary teacher invoking the anti-Christ clause to eject me from class (I was preaching evolution in a rather insulting tone), and playing a tenth-grade teacher’s pious hopes of my eventual submission by using “released time” to get something to eat at the local diner until I was fully and finally ejected from the seminary program for truancy. (I went on to teach Institute classes part time toward the end of college in partial penance.) As far as my view as a parent, if we live in a setting where our children are offered “released time” at the relevant time in their lives, I think we would allow them to participate, though we would not push them to do so.

My friend takes his children to religious school on weekends and has discussed with inmigrating Mormons the practice of early morning seminary (so ably championed by Ronan). This, or a private religious school, strikes him as an appropriate solution to the tensions of “church and state”. The apparent use of adjacent seminary buildings to allow public school students to receive a private religious education through the use of school resources (having the public school handle secular subjects, providing implicit supervision to allow autonomous participation in religious training) he (and other non-Mormons whose children attend these public schools) find offensive.

I am sympathetic to his view. It would certainly feel like an exploitation of shared public resources for the benefits of the dominant religious body if the tables were turned. This strikes me as something like the Tragedy of the Commons, in which behaviors which are perfectly harmless when performed by a single individual have serious consequences when performed by many individuals–the simplest example is walking on the grass. Would something like “released time” be appropriate if adopted to accommodate a variety of minority religions? Is it inappropriate when it is an expression of majority power? On a less theoretical level, would it be okay were it not for events like the Bauchman debacle (in which pious Mormon students circumvented a court order to sing contested religious songs at a West High graduation in 1995, a public relations (and to my eye a moral) fiasco for the community), behavior which has poisoned perceptions of the church on other issues (and still hangs like the toxic cloud of pollution the natives euphemistically and dangerously call “haze” or “inversion”)?

I think I can also see the CES view, which almost certainly partakes of neoconservative belief about the religious basis of American society, a fear of the rising tide of secular liberalism and moral relativism, and a belief in the need to express one’s religion, even if one is in the majority. I also appreciate the desire of Mormon parents and students to enjoy the extra hours with family (or in bed) provided by having “released time” religious schooling.

I had a personal experience with issues like this outside the Mormon corridor. Some friends and I re-established the LDSSA when I was in college (it had been defunct for ten years or so, if memory serves). I had to make a special appeal to the Dean’s Office because of a longstanding policy restricting national groups from receiving college recognition (designed to avoid the exploitation of college resources by extramural organizations, a problem with many other groups beyond just the LDS Church) . The CES liaison (I forget the title, but he ran the Institute program for the metropolitan area) could never quite understand the issues and proposed that he would call the LDSSA officers for the college even after I explained that our charter excluded that policy explicitly. He quoted a policy requiring that the LDSSA be church-run and did not indicate a desire to modify that rule. Ultimately we were a fairly independent-minded (and intensely faithful) bunch, and we respected the contract we had made with the college (if I remember aright, we allowed an LDSSA coordinator to be called within the church but kept the governance independent, but I could be wrong. I know the officers were elected by other undergraduates). The CES fellow saw the policy as indicating some sort of secular discrimination, while I saw restrictions on fraternities and other nationally organized special interests.

So, are these situation emblematic of difficulties participating in a culture larger than a single religious community? Should the LDS church relinquish its claim on “released time” as a gesture of understanding and neighborliness to non-Mormons who share their public school system in areas of Mormon dominance? Or should we push to make something like “released time” available to everyone (e.g. by allowing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Wiccan &c. groups to use Seminary classrooms for their own instruction)? Or is this simply an example of the friction that occurs when a single religious tradition is dominant in an area and can’t be helped?

Comments

  1. Hm. Not sure that it is the neo-cons who are the big religion as basis for society folks. Anyway, and to your overall question, I am a bit torn. I think that the any church has the right to build buildings wherever they want. Mormons like to have chapels and institute buildings near schools, which makes sense. I am also fine with open campuses. I am not at all fine with minimizing curriculum requirements so that kids don’t have to spend as much time at school…I’m not sure if this happens, having never lived in a place that had release time Seminary.

    I am trying to envision how I felt if I were living in a predominantly Catholic area and students had release time to go to mass or catechism. I am having a hard time feeling bad about that. Perhaps it release time is just one visible aspect of Mormon cultural dominance in these areas that can be easily latched on to focus general malaise?

  2. Way back in the ’70’s when I was attending released time seminary in Idaho, the Catholic students also attended seminary at a building just off school grounds. This occurred at both high schools in town. However, as time passed, the Catholic seminaries faded out of existence, although the buildings are still there. The former Catholic seminary at my high school is now a school sponsored day care center. Evangelicals have tried to occupy one of the buildings as well, but haven’t been able to sustain it. If there is another dominant religion in the area that requires a substantial commitment from members, you may be able to support another type of seminary. But I don’t see anyone in the U.S. going back to the days when a significant portion of the citizenry thought religious education was important.

    My children all attended release time seminary, although I certainly would have preferred an early morning seminary option. Anyone participating in released time seminary has to forego an equal number of electives at the public school. My kids had to forego classes like drama, journalism, some AP classes and other appealing electives because they went to seminary. My suspicion is that local school districts love released time seminary because it eases the pressure on public schools. If you figure that approximately 100 students are in seminary for every class period in an 800 student school, you can see that the public school is saving the cost of at least three teachers and classrooms.

    I have friends who are not LDS who point to seminary as the reason why their kids began to feel segregated as they progressed through school. I can see why they have that perception, but members should be able to counter that by abandoning practices that exclude non-members from their social circles. In any event, I’m not a big seminary fan, half the teachers are kooks. Although they did provide plenty of opportunities to teach my kids how to think critically in church settings.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I too have zero experience with releass time seminary, having gone to the early morning variety in my own youth. But I’m having a hard time understanding the nature of the offense. Like J., when I try the thought experiment of imagining myself as a minority in a different religious culture, where students were able to walk across the street to study Torah or recite the Qu’ran or whatever, I simply cannot imagine myself caring. Can you help us to understand better your friend’s perspective that there is an injustice here?

  4. Or should we push to make something like “released time” available to everyone (e.g. by allowing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Wiccan &c. groups to use Seminary classrooms for their own instruction)?

    Sam, my understanding is that any group can have released time for religious instruction during the school day. It’s not available exclusively to LDS schoolkids. Am I wrong?

    You seem to be suggesting something more, i.e. that the LDS seminary buildings be used by other religions in released time education for their adherents. I don’t see the reason for that, nor how it would be workable. Why can’t other religions provide homes or buildings near campuses for released time religious education of their children? Seems to me that seminary buildings are paid for by the donations of members. I think members of other churches are perfectly capable of doing the same thing.

  5. KB: my friend has two concerns primarily as I understand him. First is the social alienation. By his report, the mainline classes empty during released time, making non-Mormon children feel like someone signed them up for Mormon religious school but didn’t tell them until they showed up. By his report the non-Mormon students feel left out.
    Second is the perception that Mormons have gamed the system by managing to get free religious school, like having the state pay for parochial school for all Catholic children. So while he either has to pay for private religious school or make considerable extra effort to get his kids to religious school, the Mormons are able to take advantage of the public school system to achieve those ends.

  6. The twelfth Article of Faith reads, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Is public subsidy of the LDS seminary program in Utha breaking the law of separation of church and state? Is the LDS Church bending the rules and influencing the lawmakers because they are mostly LDS? Does this program go against obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law?

    I’m no lawyer or am I say the above is true. I’m just wondering if there is a real problem in Utah with the separation of church and state. Here in New Mexico I get up at 6:00 am every school day to take my Grandson to the Church for seminary which is not next to the school. I’m happy for him to begin his day with prayer and the Gospel before heading to public school. Do I wish all of this could happen in school? I would like to sleep a little longer, but I’m not sure it would be right unless it was a school run by the Church. This is a Catholic dominated city and they are not connected to the schools either. They do have their own schools which start the day with a prayer and you don’t have to be a Catholic to attend, you just need to be able to pay the tuition.

  7. MCQ, the issue is that for religious minorities the internal resources are sufficiently scarce that it’s hard to know how to take advantage of the proposed “released time.” Like offering meal vouchers at a remote off campus restaurant knowing full well that only a particular group of students have access to their own cars (as a secular analogy).

  8. I think Utah should just do away with release time seminary. This is mainly bitterness on my part. But really, if the youth in rest of the world are expected to get up early and go to seminary, I think the same thing should be true for youth in Utah.
    I honestly think seminary wouldn’t even exist – or would exist in a different form – if people in Utah had to deal with the trial that it can be. I was fortunate enough to live about 3 miles away from the church (and in my geographically small North Texas ward, this was actually about as far from the church as anyone could live) but for people that have to drive 20 minutes or more to and from seminary, it can be a huge burden. And really I don’t feel like what I got out of it really ever balanced out what it did to me – made me perpetually tired, grouchy, and likely to fall asleep during my classes.
    On top of that, the idea of release time seminary just doesn’t sit right with my idea of what the separation of church and state means. Even if it technically isn’t a violation, I think its fair to say that release time seminary in Utah violates the “spirit of the law.”

  9. When I was in school up in Canada there was the equivalent of release time seminary for Anglicans and Catholics. I suppose had there been more than one Mormon at the large school I could have gone to seminary then instead of 6:30 in the morning.

    So I don’t really buy this idea.

    I will say that early morning seminary is worthless. You’re simply too tired to remember anything. Further most teenagers need a lot of sleep. Early morning seminary affects school work IMO.

  10. Left Field says:

    I attended released time seminary in the ’70s. I don’t know how much things have changed since then. In a few particulars, the connection between school and seminary was a little closer than I was comfortable with. They could have done better in avoiding any appearance of sponsorship. However, for the most part both sides did pretty well with a hands-off policy.

    When I attended, students did have an “early morning” option. Those who chose an additional elective or a class associated with some extracurricular activity could attend a seminary class that ended just as the regular school day began. I don’t know if that’s still an option.

    In my experience, seminary classes were spread throughout the school day, so there wouldn’t have been a particular released time period when other classes were empty. I’m not sure how something like that could happen except perhaps at a very small high school (say

  11. Larry: Is public subsidy of the LDS seminary program in Utha breaking the law of separation of church and state?

    There is no public subsidy of the LDS seminary program.

    Sam MB: By his report, the mainline classes empty during released time . . .

    In my experience this wasn’t the case at all. Since there was seminary during every class period there was never a time when all or most Mormons were at seminary and only the non-members were left at regular school. I suppose it could be different other schools.

    Second is the perception that Mormons have gamed the system by managing to get free religious school . . .

    It’s not free. My off the top of my head guess is that the cost is in the tens of millions per year, which is paid by the Church. What Mormons in Utah managed to get is convenient religious education.

    It would certainly feel like an exploitation of shared public resources for the benefits of the dominant religious body if the tables were turned.

    What shared public resources are being exploited? Seminary takes place on private property and is paid for with private funds.

  12. Left Field says:

    My comment got truncated at a less than sign. Here’s the rest:

    I’m not sure how something like that could happen except perhaps at a very small high school (say less than 100 students) where only one or two seminary classes could be held.

    I am certainly sensitive to the concern of state sponsorship, but as far as I can tell, the full expense of the seminary program is borne by the church and its tithe-paying members. I don’t see any basis for the idea that the school district is providing free religious instruction.

  13. I liked early morning seminary. Could early morning seminary work in Utah? I mean, there are a lot of Mormon kids to teach, but there are also lots and lots of church buildings, seminary buildings, and adults who could teach. I like to think it could work. Then could we do away with the paid profession of seminary teacher and call teachers a la early morning seminary?

  14. One very good response to the “gaming the system” argument is that the church is actually subsidizing the public school system. Assume a school with 700 students, all LDS. The school only needs to provide teachers and class space for 600, because during any period in a 7 period day, 100 students will be across the street at seminary. Of course, the reality isn’t quite that neat, but at a minimum we can give the church some credit for helping to relieve the chronic overcrowding in Utah schools.

    The social alienation aspect is an ongoing disgrace which we ought to be ashamed of.

    “…a ninth grade seminary teacher invoking the anti-Christ clause to eject me from class…”

    “…using “released time” to get something to eat at the local diner until I was fully and finally ejected from the seminary program for truancy…”

    Sam MB, I don’t know you and we may never meet, but statements like that certainly make you feel like a brother and a friend.

  15. Ardis Parshall says:

    Every time the idea of discontinuing released time seminary comes up for serious debate, the public rediscovers how expensive the proposition would be. School districts would suddenly have to provide public school teachers and programs for all those seminary students who would be thrown back into public school for an additional period — if every student in a six-period high school takes seminary for one of those periods, discontinuing seminary would increase the school’s population by one-sixth overnight. Ex-pen-sive!

    Schools don’t empty for seminary, Sam. Different groups of students are released for each period throughout the day. Religious minorities should be no more aware of nor isolated by that than by seeing different groups of students heading out to the soccer fields for PE throughout the day.

    Religious minorities in Utah may have many legitimate reasons for feeling alienated. Taking offense at released time seminary, however, is due either to ignorance (e.g., about financing) or is a case of hunting for something by which to be offended.

  16. I was a tough teenager for the system to process. I actually went around apologizing to school teachers I had offended after I became a theist. Thank heavens for forgiveness, I suppose.

  17. Released time is available to everyone; in the town near where I grew up there was an interdenominational “seminary” for protestant students, mostly Baptists.

  18. In my hometown in AZ we had release-time seminary. There were around 100 LDS students in a HS of about 1500, so we were by no means a majority. In order to attend release time seminary we had to attend what was called an ‘early bird’ or ‘late bird’ class at the school so that we would be in school for the requisite number of hours each day. These classes were offered by the school an hour before or after the standard school day. Any student could attend these classes, and teachers taught them on a volunteer basis. Students elected to attend the classes for any number of reasons– to make up credit and avoid summer school, to try and graduate early, to start the school day earlier and have more free-time in the afternoon, to have more flexibility with taking other classes, or to attend seminary.

    I didn’t know that other release time programs don’t require students to make up the time they don’t spend at school, and I agree that it is unfair when this is the case.

  19. When my children attended the local public school (P.S. 58) they remained in school on Wednesday afternoons with a few other heathens while all the Catholic kids went off to religious instruction. (I don’t recall if it was preparation for first communion or confirmation or something else.)

    They enjoyed the goof-off time with the few other students that remained with them. The teachers didn’t do any teaching–wouldn’t have been fair to those not in class that hour–but the missing hours didn’t seem to hurt the kids academically.

    When they got to high school, seminary was at 6:00 a.m. A lot of the Catholic kids went to Catholic high schools, and got their religion there.

  20. This thread is crazy, there are so many misconceptions.

    No one has to make up time spent in relesed time seminary because school credit is given for school classes. If you take released time you get less choice of electives and you have less periods to take your required classes. Those who don’t take released time get through their requirements quicker and have more opportunity for electives. Anyone who wants to take a study period can do so with an elective also, it doesn’t have to be religious.

    There is no subsidy of this activity by the state. Sam, I just could not disagree more with this whole post, you’re just making up problems here. Your analogy above (#7) doesn’t work, because they DO have their own cars, they just choose not to use them. You can have religious instruction in a house near campus, like the home of a parent of a child who attends the school and is of a different religion.

    In Utah, at least in my area, there is just no possible way to have seminary for everyone in the early morning. My high school had seven periods of seminary with three or four classrooms each period. They could not fit all those kids into an early morning class, or classes. Also, those who are on sports teams with early morning practices cannot attend seminary during the season. If there was no released time, I would not have been able to take seminary at all. There is just no reason to be complaining about this system, it works well, it’s paid for with church funds, and there is no reason for anyone to be offended by it.

  21. non-participants are ghetto-ized while participants receive their religious education without any additional time commitment on their part.

    Please tell me you are kidding about this! How are they “ghetto-ized” and please, how exactly did I get through four years of seminary with “no additional time commitment” on my part. That’s just plain offensive.

  22. MCQ, you may find that your non-Mormon neighbors take umbrage at your characterization of their views as offensive or crazy. These appear to be very real emotions and perceptions of your non-Mormon neighbors.

    The perception this friend reported to me was the sense that the seminary building represents an important act of exclusion to non-Mormon students, who thereby feel a sense of social exclusion made more prominent by the presence of a church-like structure directly adjacent to their public school.
    As far as the lack of additional time commitment, my friend’s point appears to be that religious instruction is seamlessly integrated into the public school experience without requirement for time investments outside school time, whereas minority religious groups have a much harder time accomplishing this.

    I’m not sure I understand your reference to cars.

  23. It was your reference to cars. Look at your response #7. I was just answering you.

  24. Sam: My “crazy” comment was not meant for you or your friend. It was referring to the range of misconceptions about released time by commenters on this thread.

  25. I do think it’s offensive to say that there is no additional time commitment by those who attend seminary. It’s a sacrifice. You have to give up electives. You have a harder time populating your reume with classes to impress college admissions people. Seminary is a class, not play time, at least in my area. And I think to say that those who are making this effort to attend in the only way they can are thereby somehow ghetto-izing their non-mormon classmates is just simply false.

  26. As I stated above, I am not understanding the basis for the offense. However, MCQ, I must take issue with argument here. Everywhere I have lived, early morning seminary has met, typically in the chapel where Sunday services are held. I presume that there is the same amount of youth per chapel in UT as elsewhere (more or less). Consequently, if you make this consideration, all the students could indeed have early morning seminary. The seminary building with its full time church employee teacher is an artifact of your local and not particularly necessary.

  27. They could not fit all those kids into an early morning class, or classes.

    I wonder if they would run into problems calling enough teachers, too.

    The perception this friend reported to me was the sense that the seminary building represents an important act of exclusion to non-Mormon students,

    I suspect that any students could take Seminary if they wanted to, though, if they really want to be a part of it and don’t want to feel excluded. I can understand the frustration that they can’t get similar instruction for their faith during school hours, but they then get benefits of electives or other “released-time” activities they could choose (work, study period, etc.) that the Seminary students don’t. I think it’s important to be sensitive to people’s feelings about things, but I think it’s also important to consider that this may not all be as one-sided as they make it sound. From what some have said, it seems that anyone could have released time religion instruction if they had a class to go to. Have they thought to ask if this is possible? I guess I would ask: Is this really a practical concern, or more just an emotional issue? If it’s about a building on private property that has symbolically painful value, is it really right to expect the church to change things? (I could see someone complaining about too many church buildings, too, and we can’t do much about that.) As much as we want to care about neighbors and neighborhoods and how the church affects them, I don’t think the church can play to individual emotional concerns because it has a responsibility to its members, and released-time seems to be the best system where there are lots of members. We can’t just seek to keep everyone happy while doing things that don’t make sense for us. Tough balancing act.

  28. Stapley:

    I wonder if they would run into problems calling enough teachers, too.

    I think m&m has the reason why they don’t do it that way here. Yes, you could get all the youth in the chapel but you would not be able to get the right number of instructors at that hour to make it a good experience. And again, some people can’t attend early morning seminary because of conflicts with sports teams.

    Truly, released time works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  29. In my SoCal elementary school, the protestant kids had released-time religious training in a trailer and I and two others remained in class, feeling very much alienated. This was exascerbated for us because the instruction was non-denom, so the other kids asked what was so weird about my church that I didn’t go.

    The Church let them meet in our wardhouse, next to the school, for a while so it was even odder for me to be the person that didn’t even go to Christian training in my own churchhouse. The Church pulled the plug when their teacher just couldn’t quite understand we meant zero tolerance for smoking in our classrooms.

    Our LDSSA group in the community college found that we had free use of the school’s gym for our “club” dances. This became a useful cover — 100% tax paid — for Regional Young Adult dances. We hung a few posters around campus to stay kosher. Because student activities were waning on that campus, the school administration was enthusiastic about the turnout (mostly not-their-students from surrounding stakes) we had for our school dances.

  30. 1. It is alienating. In Vienna, my son is excluded from the Catholic and Protestant classes that are part of “release time” religious education. If we were settling here, and if he was a bit older, I think this would be uncomfortable for him.

    2. If children want sectarian instruction, have them go to church on Sunday (Seminary could replace the usually woeful teenage Sunday School, for example), or have them learn at home. I teach home study Seminary here; we meet once a week and it works a charm. Teacher, students, and parents are happy.

    3. Release time Seminary clearly isn’t up to much because if it was, the missionaries bred in Utah ought to be, on average, more scripturally competent than their colonial counterparts. After all, they have comfortable facilities, professional teachers, and aren’t meeting whilst asleep. But they’re not.

    4. Early morning Seminary reminds me of Nibley’s seminal essay, Zeal Without Knowledge. The goal is to educate our children in the faith. This can be accomplished in many ways but because early morning seminary involves “pain and suffering,” it is sometimes held to be of greater worth. Nonsense. What’s bizarre is that we often trumpet early morning seminary in the media as a sign of our kids’ devotion. Are we unaware that it sounds ultra-cultish?

    5. Those clever Brits do it best (of course). Religious education is on the curriculum of all public schools, but it’s not indoctrination hour: all of the major world religions are taught, plus humanism, ethics, and philosophy. True, if you’re at a church-sponsored school (usually CofE, but there are Catholic, Jewish etc. state schools) there’ll be a natural concentration on the parent religion, but it’s all very benign.

    6. “Some people can’t attend early morning seminary because of conflicts with sports teams.” Eh? Only Utahns play sports?

  31. MCQ re 23, your reference to cars didn’t make sense in light of the analogy proposed. I am still left not understanding your reference to cars. My point was that apparently fair proposals can be unfair if they are (even accidentally) taking advantage of existing discrepancies. I think you understood the cars as somehow directly relevant to seminary involvement?

    To be honest, I was a little surprised by my friend’s perception, but it seemed to express a heartfelt frustration with the experience of living among the Mormons. I had always thought the buildings seemed a little cultish but never threatening and didn’t personally participate.

    As far as high school electives, I don’t remember much about them, though having been involved with students at competitive colleges, I’m skeptical that most electives would make much difference for colleges.

  32. Starfoxy says:

    MCQ- I assume that this:

    No one has to make up time spent in relesed time seminary because school credit is given for school classes. If you take released time you get less choice of electives and you have less periods to take your required classes.

    is in response to my comment. I don’t know how it worked in Utah, but that is how it worked in my high school. Believe me I know, every year we had a fireside that the principal attended to explain the release time program to us and to let us know how it worked, and I took early bird classes all four years. Seminary was not considered a school class, we got no credit for it, and were not considered full time students unless we were at the school building taking school classes for the required number of hours.

  33. MCQ, I presume that there are as many potential teachers in Utah per student as there is in the rest of the world. Granted, professional release time seminary is more convenient, but the rest of the world gets along just fine.

  34. Costanza says:

    Due to the peripatetic lifestyle of my family when I was growing up, I attended one year of release-time, one year of early morning, and two years of home study. The best, and toughest, experience was home study seminary, which I took in England. Our teacher went over the assignments with a red pen and gave us detailed feedback and suggestions. At the time I felt like it was a nightmare, but when I later took early morning and release time I realized how great my experience in the UK had been.

  35. Costanza, what is home study seminary? Does that mean one of your parents was marking up your papers, or was there a teacher to whose house you went regularly? At what intervals did you go?

    I suddenly had an image of a miniature School of the Prophets (thankfully coeducational this time) in which people studied koine Greek and Massoretic Hebrew, pondered over theology with Charles Buck, and tried to understand cosmos and ancient history. That I would sign up for.

  36. Sam, for home study we met at the home of a woman in the branch once a week and she would grade (literally grade as in A,B,C, etc)our workbook assignments for the week. Alas, it was no school of the prophets, but it was worthwhile.

  37. Sam,
    There’s a whole seminary coursebook for home study. Best way to go.

  38. So, are there workbooks that you’re supposed to be studying from? Or did she give assignments? Would she lead discussions each week or just review your work? If you got an F on an assignment were you reported to your parents or ecclesiastical leaders?

  39. Sam,
    I’m not allowed to tell you. CES put me under a gagging order. They think the success and happiness produced by home study ought to be kept secret.

  40. Ronan, what is this coursebook like? Is it cool/strange?

  41. Many orders make me gag. Is that what a gagging order is, or is that an anglism for “gag order”?

  42. In contrast to Ronan, I have not sold my soul to CES and I am therefore free to disclose the top secret nature of home study seminary’s many advantages. I grew up with released time, we now live where there is early A.M. seminary, but in the small branches I have seen over the years, the youth involved in home study are not at a disadvantage to their counterparts in the Provo 487th ward. It is a manual published by the church that the students study on their own throughout the week, reading and filling out worksheets and completing short writing assignments. They meet once a week with an advisor for discussion and probably some social interaction with other LDS youth.

    Ronan makes a very good point – released time seminary is oversold. For all the effort, time and expense we put into it, we ought to be seeing much better results. Home study is the way to go.

  43. Sam,
    I think you can find it at http://www.ldsces.org under “Seminary.”

  44. Left Field says:

    Here is some information that may be relevant to this discussion.

    History of released time in the US.

    Regulations for released time, from the Utah Code

    Note that in Utah, as elsewhere, no credit is given for seminary, and seminary students are not excused from any class required for graduation. Seminary can only replace an optional elective which is not required for high school graduation.

    To the extent that released time does not involve an unconstitutional entanglement, there is still the likelihood that there may be a perception of entanglement, and both school and seminary could probably do better to clarify the nature of the relationship.

    For example, any time the school may mention the availability of released time, they should be careful to specify that any religious group can establish such a program. The reality on the ground may be that only LDS students (and those few others who choose to study with them) have a released time program, but to avoid any appearance of favoritism, it should be made very clear to students and parents that the option to establish released time is open to all.

    On the seminary side of things, several changes could be made, even including such symbolic gestures as altering the landscaping so as to clearly identify the boundary between church property and school property.

  45. Here’s something else to think about:

    The Seminary program in Utah must cost a fortune. You have buildings and you have full-time teachers.

    Outside of Utah, Seminary runs basically as a calling, with an unpaid teacher. A few full-time “CES “men (can there be CES women?) supervise things on a regional level.

    On average, the Utah kids do not seem to be graduating Seminary with a Gospel understanding qualitatively better than their colonial counterparts.

    But the Seminary education of a Utah kid costs maybe 10x (at a minimum) that of the non-Utah kid.

    As Mark says, and as I have suggested above, is the expense worth the results?

  46. Scheherazade says:

    Didn’t you people go to high school? I’m surprised at the lack of imagination here about the possible implications of not attending Mormon seminary in a predominantly LDS high school. Sam’s friend’s experience makes perfect sense to me.

    My graduating class was 600, 411 of whom graduated from seminary (that’s the number of the actual graduates. There were many others Mormon students who got a year certificate or at least occasionally dropped in). Those who weren’t LDS were the tiniest minority. In both of the high schools I attended, seminary activities were some of the most important social events of the year. Seminary council members (who definitely had a cool factor) organized parties, devotionals, service projects, and even major dances during the year. These events (including seminary classes themselves) were great opporutnities to talk and hang out with friends, as well as flirt and set up dates for the weekend. By not attending seminary you were excluded not only from classes, but most of these events and therefore experienced real social losses.

  47. Kevin Barney says:

    Scheherazade, that puts this into some perspective. I had been assuming that seminary had an uncool vibe for Utah high schoolers, so I didn’t grasp what the social losses would be in not participating.

  48. Scheherazade:

    Seminary council members had a “cool factor?” Wow, you must have had a very different high school than mine. Being on Seminary council was like having a “geek” sign taped to your back in my school. The “cool” crowd usually ditched seminary in my school.

  49. seminary activities were some of the most important social events of the year.

    Again, not my experience. We had one, it was called the computer dance. It was even lamer than it sounds.

  50. MCQ, I presume that there are as many potential teachers in Utah per student as there is in the rest of the world. Granted, professional release time seminary is more convenient, but the rest of the world gets along just fine.

    Yeah, but there’s a difference in the enormous number of potential students in Utah. I think you’re missing how much more difficult that would be in Utah. Not impossible, of course, just very difficult.

  51. Seminary was not considered a school class, we got no credit for it, and were not considered full time students unless we were at the school building taking school classes for the required number of hours.

    Starfoxy(love that name!): that’s exactly what I meant. You seemed to be saying before that the seminary students should have to “make up” the tme spent out of school. My point was that they lose that credit, it is not made up because there are only so many periods during the day. If you use one for seminary every year, you don’t get it back and you don’t get as many credits.

    And Sam, whether that hurts you in college recruitment is toatally dependent on where you are applying and who you are competing against. but it certainly can be a factor at the top levels.

  52. Ronan: Twice now you have impugned the knowledge and preparation of elders from Utah. On behalf of my Utah brethren. I’m deeply offended.

  53. MCQ,
    I served in Utah which means I never had a companion from Utah. We did just fine without your release time brethren.:)

  54. impugned the knowledge and preparation of elders from Utah

    Nah. Just disappointed that with all that professional Seminary, they were distinctly…average.

    My apologies to my Utah comps. You know who you were. A man just has to speak the truth…

  55. MCQ, I was talking about the top levels. My friends in admissions and my experience with admitted students suggested that missing public school electives was far less important than what else you were up to.

  56. Left Field: The regulations you cite are not from the Utah Code, but from the Utah Administrative Rules established largely by the Utah Board of Education.

    In my school the seminary officers were definitely perceived as cool — and seminary was a big deal.

    Ronan: My experience is that seminary was like sunday school except for more geared toward feeling good and having parties. It was aimed at having a spiritual experience during the day rather than learning something. Is it different outside Utah? I didn’t get the sense that seminary graduates from other states had much more experience with the scriptures than the run-of-the-mill Utah student. Maybe in England it is different — but I just believe that Ronan is an aberration in the sense that he paid more attention and cared more. As for me, I spent my time during class time reading Nibley’s articles on the Book of Abraham in the seminary library and reading B. H. Roberts’ stuff in the Improvement Era (our library had a fill historical set) as well the the Documentary History of the Church. That was good.

    In fact, even with religion classes at BYU I felt that I got ripped off. Here’s why. Anywhere else I would have learned about the synoptic problem, the challenges to historicity of some of the letters attributed to Paul; that none of the writers of the gospels knew Jesus and how the early Church provided the sociological background for the testimonies in the NT. I would have learned about the documentary hypothesis of the OT and various views of revelation and inspiration. Instead, I got the same thing I had been taught since I was 12 in Sunday School, except with a test at the end.

    Having said that, I loved my seminary teachers. They gave me role models of good men of faith who I would very much like to be like in many ways.

  57. Where did you serve your mission Ronan? Maybe the problem was that compared to you, everyone is just average.

  58. As far as what you get out of seminary, I don’t think the form matters as much as attitude. I went through 4 years of home study and thought it was the most worthless waste of time. I did the assignments on the 20 minute ride to church in the car. Not at all inspiring and my teacher used a red pen to grade our assignments too. :) I always thought I would have loved to have early morning seminary – it sounded like so much more fun than attending class once a week during the hour before YM/YW with my brother, sister, and 2 siblings from another family.

  59. Sam: The classes you take are less important? Hmm, not sure I believe that, but ok.

  60. As for me, I spent my time during class time reading Nibley’s articles on the Book of Abraham in the seminary library and reading B. H. Roberts’ stuff in the Improvement Era (our library had a fill historical set) as well the the Documentary History of the Church.

    Face it Blake, you were a seminary geek. Embrace it.

  61. none of the writers of the gospels knew Jesus

    News to me. Maybe you could explain this in a different post.

  62. MCQ: I’m talking about public school electives, not about whether you take unchallenging classes or skip out on AP. I just didn’t get the sense that seminary was particularly taxing in terms of completing a competitive roster of classes, particularly because it didn’t require additional work outside class.

    And if memory serves, Ronan was called to the Conference Center usher mission for complex theological and behavioral reasons.

  63. I served in Utah which means I never had a companion from Utah. We did just fine without your release time brethren.:)

    Yeah, I know. I did splits with you guys before my mission. Not impressed with you either.

  64. And if memory serves, Ronan was called to the Conference Center usher mission for complex theological and behavioral reasons.

    That explains a lot.

  65. I’m talking about public school electives, not about whether you take unchallenging classes or skip out on AP. I just didn’t get the sense that seminary was particularly taxing in terms of completing a competitive roster of classes, particularly because it didn’t require additional work outside class.

    I think we’re talking past each other here. My friends who did not take seminary and were applying to the same shools had one extra class a year that they could use to build resume impressiveness. Used properly, that is not inconsequential, imo. No schools I applied to were impressed by whether you took seminary. I don’t know BYU’s attitude about it because I didn’t apply there, much to my Dad’s lasting dismay.

  66. Kevin Barney says:

    I did the early morning variety for four years in Illinois. I learned a fair bit about the scriptures (how to crossreference, etc.) my first year, but after that our teacher changed and the focus came to be more social than academic. Which frankly was probably just what I needed at the time. I didn’t learn a lot, but I bonded with my active LDS friends, which kept me active and involved at church.

    In contrast, my daughter went to an early morning seminary at a woman’s house with only that woman’s twin daughters. And the woman just read the scriptures the whole time. No lesson, no discussion, no social interactions whatsoever. She hated it, and I can hardly blame her.

  67. It used to be that released time seminary kids got credit only for Old Testament and New Testament because those classes were more applicable to other religions. I don’t know if that’s still the case.I don’t think anyone has to make up time in seminary at school, but they do give up electives, and important classes to attend. My friend’s son couldn’t take a foreign language in high school because the CES guy’s rules wouldn’t allow kids to take early morning when released time was available, and the kid had some other conflict. The CES guy told him that between Seminary and an academic class the choice should be seminary. The kid ended up not taking a foreign language which really limits the choice of colleges. Here, my own kid attends a “school of choice” in the district, which is essentially a magnet school, and the start times don’t work with early AM seminary. The CES folks want him to attend the closer high school’s seminary for 20 minutes every morning and do makeup for the rest of the time. I wanted to just be able to do home study seminary, but that’s not allowed if you have an early morning program in your area. The upshot is, at this point, we’re not doing any seminary, because the CES guy’s system was just not working. We fought the same battle with my older kid at a different magnet high school. He did attend all four years of seminary, and eventually the CES started running a class for that school at the church which was near the school, and timed to work with the start times of the school. I imagine they’ll do the same thing for the new school, about the time this kid gets done.

    I don’t understand why it would be any harder to get teachers and rooms for early morning seminary kids in Utah than it is in other places. They all still have parents there don’t they? Should be enough teachers to handle it then, if seminary is truly a priority. Here in Southern California, I’d be willing to bet that it’s harder for the adults to get to work after seminary than in Utah, with the traffic problems, and the high housing costs leading people to live far from work. And we have three wards sharing the same building, so have to house that many kids for seminary.

    Ronan’s really summed it up well. I don’t think that early morning seminary is the answer either. The kids are half asleep, or mostly asleep, and frequently late.

  68. Actually two more thoughts. The social stuff is fine I suppose for the people who are accepted. But my youngest kid is not accepted by the other kids his age. (And frankly he doesn’t want to be accepted by the other kids in the ward right now.) But telling a kid that he has to show up at the church at 6 for what is essentially a social hour with kids he doesn’t like is really difficult. The social stuff is one of the main excuses that CES has for not letting the new high school have seminary class of its own. They think that the kids need to know kids from the other high schools. But I think that they’d be better off knowing the LDS from their own high schools. (And my kid would vastly prefer that to his own wards kids.)
    When I was in high school in Utah, the seminary officers were usually the kids who didn’t win in the school elections for officers. And the year that a teacher was fired from seminary because his wife was divorcing him, he was instantly hired by the school, even though there was a lot of competition for those jobs. There seemed to be quite a bit of connection between the two.

  69. Left Field says:

    Speaking for my experience from 30 years ago, students who took released time seminary had no trouble scheduling all the academically rigorous courses they could handle. At my high school, that meant classes like AP English, Pre-calculus, and second year Chemistry. Taking seminary meant you didn’t have as much room in your schedule for classes like Chorus, Photography, Bachelor Survival, and (I kid you not) Search for Identity.

    Blake, I probably saw “code” in the URL and figured that was the correct terminology for what I was looking at. I’m a biologist, so the legal distinction is probably lost on me. However, I’m always happy to point out egregious biological errors such as when people refer to a chimpanzee as a monkey instead of an ape.

  70. When I was in high school in Utah, the seminary officers were usually the kids who didn’t win in the school elections for officers.

    The year I was a senior, the president was actually asked to pull out from the school elections to be Sem. President. This was in Utah. Obviously it varies based on the school.

  71. I have vague recollections of getting school credit for seminary at least some of the three years I took seminary. (Back in late 60’s, early 70’s Provo. And, back then you could be a three-year seminary graduate, without someone thinking you apostate.)

    Seminary is sadly one of the greatest missed opportunities in the Church. Most students come out without a serious introduction to the scriptures. I remember my disappointment even in 9th grade when the lessons seemed just like another Sunday School class rather than an attempt to read and understand the text.

    So, when I taught early morning seminary for a few years I tried to solve some of those deficiencies. You’ll have to ask my students if it made a difference.

    At Provo High School in the late 60’s, early 70’s, nobody cared (or at least, I didn’t care) who the seminary officers were. And I don’t remember any activities, other than graduation.

  72. Left Field, I wonder how many classes you were allowed to take in your high school? I think it was seven at my high school. However, the norm here, and in Tucson, where I used to teach high school was only 6. I don’t know if that’s the same in Utah now or not. This makes it pretty difficult to get in all the academic stuff you need to take, and also do released time, if it’s available in your area. The magnet schools my kids attend has a four by four schedule, meaning they do four courses first semester but each of those classes is a full year’s credit, then the next semester, they do another four classes, each for a full year’s credit. So here, if they did have released time, they’d either only have seminary for one half of the year, or they’d have to take two years in the same school year. There’s also the problem of block schedules in many places, but I suppose that the seminary just follows the same block pattern. (But that defeats one purpose I often hear for seminary– that the kids need that daily dose of spirituality.

  73. anon today says:

    RE: #4 ‘s question:
    Why can’t other religions provide homes or buildings near campuses for released time religious education of their children?

    Well, quite frankly, many groups don’t want other buildings. New neo-con evangelical pastors are counseled to begin their new callings by forming a church then holding services in school buildings on Sunday mornings. They continue in the buildings until they build up a following and build up a “building fund”.

    When it comes to a time when the church-in-the-school has grown sufficiently in an area, members can push the school into letting them use school space after school hours – BECAUSE they do not have a building to go to. As they gain approval for weekday/Saturday use, they may find other church groups try to get similar rights. It is then, that the church-in-the-school howls that it is only “they” that have rights to school use – as other groups already have church buildings to go to.

    The ultimate church-in-the-school goal is to provide outreach/missionary within the school to add new members from the school area. Once there are many church-in-schools that have church student membership in or nearing a majority, the goal is to put pressure on the choice of school curriculum (watch for this coming soon – possibly to your area). As these groups are in schools, they try to advertise/prosyltize on the bulletin boards, and through the use of on street advertising of church services.

  74. Left Field says:

    Paula, it turns out that for no apparent reason, I have a folder full of old yellowed high school documents that have been sitting in a filing cabinet unused since well before Al Gore invented the internet, just waiting for you to ask me this question.

    I graduated from a 3-year high school in ’77. At that time, we could take a maximum of 7 courses. If one class period was released time, that put us down to 6. According to the document in my file (can you believe I still have this?), 18 units were required for graduation. A unit was one class period for a full academic year. So with 3 years of seminary, we still could get our 18 units for graduation. To qualify for honors in a college prep program, you needed a minimum of 12 units in math, science, social science, and English, and 1.5 units of PE and Health.

    I took advanced math, American history, Short Story, Humanities, Psychology, Biology, Zoology, Botany, Physiology, Physics, and two years of Chemistry. (Can you tell I’m a science guy?) So even with seminary, I took pretty much all the upper-level academic courses that were offered except AP English and a foreign language. And if I were a masochist, I probably could have worked those in too, in place of some of my electives (e.g., debate, drafting, typing, folklore and mythology, or wood shop.)

    In my case, I don’t think released time seminary really impacted my academic record that much. I think I took about all the tough courses I could handle, and there weren’t many more that I could’ve taken if I’d wanted to. For students that can only take six classes, released time seminary might be a problem.

  75. I did one year of released time, and 3 years of home study (in two different places). I enjoyed all of them…although I wouldn’t do the home study homework until the last month so it was a pain to have to complete it all at once.
    My kids will do early morning here. Sounds exhausting, especially for me. I’ll have 10 years of my kids in seminary.
    My kids will have a choice whether to go to our building with most of the wards kids, or whether to go to another ward building that most of their high school lds kids go to. The ward boundaries and high school boundaries are not the same.

  76. Hmm, Left Field, I can’ believe you still have that sitting there. I graduated a year earlier than you, and I don’t think I could find anything that I took in high school. But you did have seven periods, and only 18 credits to earn, so it didn’t hurt you to be in released time. If you’d had only 6 classes– that’s where the trouble comes in. If a kid wants to do band, or debate for all four years, that makes released time impossible. Sometimes it’s impossible even without released seminary, so some schools have zero period– a period before normal school hours, and of course that makes early AM seminary impossible. But in every instance of a problem that I’ve known of, kids are not allowed to take home study if there is a released time option or early AM option in their area. So my friends’ kid wasn’t allowed to take early AM seminary so he could take a language because he was in the grade that was supposed to take released time. And for my son, they won’t let him take home study because early AM is available. Basically CES will tell you that seminary always is more important than any academic stuff. The only accommodation around here for anything has been for the surf team, yes, the surf team. Seminary always had to start early enough that the kid on the surf team could make it to both. (Surf PE is first period, but starts a bit early, and they have to change for it.)

    As for me, I filled up my time in high school with way too much home ec and choir. Can you tell I was a girl in Cache Valley?

  77. Left Field says:

    Yeah, I’m a real pack rat.

    My seminary did have a couple of non-released time “Period Zero” classes. They called it early morning, but it wasn’t really the same as regular early morning seminary. The classes were taught by professional teachers in the seminary building and ended just minutes before the regular school day began. So students that didn’t want to give up a class to released time could still do seminary. I don’t remember that the school did any Period Zero classes.

  78. MCQ (51) Alright, I understand you better now. I thought you were saying that seminary is a school class and that students do get school credit for it- I’m glad that this is not normally the case.

    You were correct though, I was saying that students- at least the ones at my school- did have to make up the time that they weren’t at school. Our school offered the period zero classes that Left Field and Paula have been discussing (though we called them early birds classes).

    We had pretty strict graduation requirements and one couldn’t graduate taking four years of release time unless we took at least one or two years with an early bird class as well. The school’s funding was directly related to how many hours students spent sitting in their seats in class. If students weren’t in class for seven hours a day then the school got less money. They weren’t just going to let us leave for an hour unless they got that hour back some other time.

  79. Starfoxy: Now I’m curious, where did you go to school?

  80. #66:

    That explains a lot.

    Or nothing at all!

  81. How exactly would changing from released time format to an early morning format make non-Mormon youth feel less left out? Instead of having the vast bulk of their classmates leaving during the school day for seminary they’d have the vast bulk of their classmates attending seminary in the morning. Either way they are left out of a daily shared experience that the majority of their peers have.

    The only way to solve this entirely would be for the Mormons to dilute their church activity level (in this case to get rid of seminary entirely) or for the non-Mormons to become Mormon. Neither of which is a fair solution.

    It seems to me that this is yet another example where a thicker skin would work wonders. Feeling “left out” seems like a horrible reason to force a change in this. And on the Mormon side of the coin remind Seminary leaders to be mindful of the non-Mormon population at their schools and to attempt to include them in activities as much as possible. But we don’t have to give up our own right to religious instruction to do so.

  82. Non-Mormon kids were always invited to all seminary activities at my High School, such as they were.

  83. I am ambivalent about release-time seminary, but a quick note about something Ronan said:

    On average, the Utah kids do not seem to be graduating Seminary with a Gospel understanding qualitatively better than their colonial counterparts.

    The actual acquisition of curriculum-based knowledge is a minimal element of education. If I think about what I learned in high school that was worth remembering, the lesson plans of my teachers come close to last. Likewise, I know my students rarely remember my brilliant insights on a novel or the definition of irony. They remember that that girls like Darcy more than Bingley, or that feeling they had when we read ee cummings, or that I cried while discussing Mrs Dalloway. So actual scripture knowledge recall may not be the only way of evaluating the quality of the seminary program.

  84. My points:

    1. Growing up in Minnesota the Catholic kids all left for catechism classes to the local church once a week for a couple of years 4-6 grades. They left on school buses. It was about 50% of the student body

    2. Early morning seminary is difficult. I was M’s (8) teacher her senior year. She is right. Its difficult and it makes the kids grumpy. Heck it made me grumpy.

    3. Non LDS in Utah need to relax about release time. Its not going to change. There is nothing illegal about it. The “friend” who is upset about simply sounds anti-lds to me in a way that only a SL Valley nonmember can be. Its horribly divided there. I hear stories all the time here in TX from the recent transplants about how nasty it has become over the past decade or so. I essentially agrree with the last sentence or 2 in #1

  85. This reminds me that I need to follow up on something else Ronan said:

    “Some people can’t attend early morning seminary because of conflicts with sports teams.” Eh? Only Utahns play sports?

    You are missing my point. Obviously, in areas where there is no released time, people on sports teams must choose between early morning seminary or being on a sports team. That’s unfortunate. In Utah, where released time exists, this is just one more reason to continue with a system that allows for sports oriented kids to attend both seminary and their practices.

    bbell: Having lived in the SL Valley much of my life, I think that “the divide” as it’s referred to is a bit overblown. My next door neighbors are evangelical christian ministers who have taught a class to their congregation on “surviving your Mormon neighbors.” We get along very well.

  86. Starfoxy says:

    MCQ- I went to high school in the thriving metropolis of Prescott Arizona.

  87. Starfoxy, Kerry Blair lives in Chino Valley, as does a close friend of mine. Do you still live there? Have we had this conversation?

    I think it’s harder to be a non-traditional Mormon than it is to be a non-Mormon in Mormon country.

  88. I’m late chiming in, but my recollection is that released time is only constitutional if it is allowed to all students. Thus, in Utah, my high school peers of other faiths had opportunities while I went to seminary to attend religious instruction for their faith. I remember a few friends driving to St. Joseph’s in Ogden to get some Catholic instruction, while a few of my Jehovah Witness friends got to do released time proselyting. One year they had released time door to door the same period I has seminary, so I’d see them coming and going as I came and went to Seminary. It didn’t strike me as a very fun alternative, and it seems they got quite a bit of resistance tracting in Utah, but the school district blessed their doing it.

  89. Starfoxy says:

    Anne- I don’t still live there, but I have family that does and I visit fairly often. I don’t know your friend in Chino Valley. I think we have had this conversation before, but that was a long time ago.

  90. Seems like I’m always late to these threads…

    Early morning seminary was critical to my testimony and activity in the Church. I only attended 2 years (freshman & senior), but the impact was important enough to me that I even attended under the threat of being kicked out of the house as a senior.

    I also have 6 years of early morning teaching experience. I have taught nearly 80 kids over that period and have seen an amazingly high percentage go on missions, marry in the temple and live gospel enriched lives.

    On a daily basis I see this as a critical opportunity for these kids to be reminded of what is important and that they have peers who believe as they do. It is almost like an affirmation that they are not “peculiar” even though they may be only 1 of 10 LDS kids in their 2200 student high school.

    Even more important, on a day-to-day basis I see kids bear & gain testimony. Not every day, maybe not every week, but it is amazing to be there when you see a young man or woman have an “Aha!” moment as the Spirit affirms knowledge and you can see it register in their countenance.

    I constantly hear missionaries speak of seminary as they give preparation advice to my children. I’ve listened to scores of talks of youth who have credited seminary for their faith & blessings. I’ve had numerous former students give thanks (and apologies!) for their seminary time in my class (and certainly not because of the teacher).

    When I read comments with adjectives like “worthless”, I felt I had to throw in a few counter points ;-)

  91. Born and raised in Arizona, I had release time. We didn’t have a separate building though, there was a church building across the street (next to the mission home) that we walked to. We did get release time, but I had to take summer school to make up the credit I missed. I was not at a predominantly Mormon high school – about 100 out of 1500 students attended seminary.

    My teacher was paid. It was his full-time job. Not only Utah seminary teachers are paid. I worked at the institute at Arizona State after I was married. It was right on campus, private property. The school kept trying to by it from the church, but they would never go for it.

    If other churches wanted to organize a release period instruction type thing, I’m all for it. Our Church just has the infrastructure in place to get it done easily in Mormon settled areas.

  92. Gavin Guillaume says:

    My wife attended released time seminary in SLC. I attended early morning seminary in the Great Lakes region. We both came away with a great knowledge of the scriptures and great experiences. The quality wasn’t markedly different, if we compare our experiences. One big difference is that you had very “inactive” youth attending early morning seminary, as opposed to Utah.

    The biggest difference we noted that was that I took more classes than she. Most students in my high school took 7 classes each quarter (some classes only lasted a quarter; others lasted a semester or the whole year), along with a lunch period and a study hall. Most of the top students took an eighth classes and passed up study hall. 73% of the students in my high school played at least one sport (small high school, intensely spirited) and over 90% were in at least one extracurricular activity. Early morning seminary was actually the second thing I did every morning, after my paper route. Early morning seminary never impacted my schooling or sports — it all becomes an issue of time management and prioritizing.

    My wife and I agree that for the motivated student, early morning seminary actually works better than released time, since you don’t sacrifice the class period. “Zero-hour” seminary is just early morning seminary held a little later in the morning. That only works if you have the building nearby.

    On a personal note, if I lived in Utah (and despite having family there, I have no immediate plans to), I would have my children attend zero-hour before school and not cause them to miss any actual classes that count. I’m generally uncomfortable with the “paid ministry” that the Church has in Utah/AZ — quite honestly, you can find excellent “volunteer” seminary teachers and not have to pay them. I have family members who teach seminary in Utah and I’ve been to their classes and I haven’t found the quality to be greater than the early morning seminary classes I taught at one time in the South.

    Now, the issue of how eliminated RT seminary would impact the local schools — why is that the Church’s problem? Why prop up a badly implemented school system by putting in place a seminary model that provides no added value? It just illustrates to me how the Utah church differs from the rest of the Church, and not in a good way.

    Anyway, I hold no real ill will toward RT seminary and Utah. It just seems like the students who take RT seminary are costing themselves part of their education. Take it zero-hour or early morning from a dedicated, competent, knowledgeable teacher who has been called and chosen (and not paid) and take an extra class. It won’t cost any sleep, if the kids turn off the TV and the Xbox. RT seems of to be of limited benefit.

  93. Gavin Guillaume says:

    In 92, I meant to say, One big difference is that you had very FEW “inactive” youth attending early morning seminary, as opposed to Utah. Left off the word FEW.

  94. It all boils down to whether the LDS church is in violation of any law by having “release time” during the regular school day or whether they are getting special treatment. As far as I know this is not against the law. The release time classes taught are paid for by the LDS church and they receive NO money from the state. Also, if ANY religion can petition for release time for their youth, it is not an unfair advantage to LDS members in Utah or any other state. PERIOD.

  95. Medusa says:

    In Phoenix public schools, there’s release time, but that doesn’t mean that the requirements for graduations are somehow lessened; any student can opt for release time for whatever reason (get some sleep in, go to a relgious class, work, etc) as long as they complete the required hours and classes to graduate. My Mormon friend goes to Seminary zero hour (it’s an extra class period that students can elect to take for whatever reason), and then just goes to school like everyone else the rest of the day. Other Mormon kids get release periods, and go whenever it fits in their scheduale, but take summer school or zero hour to get their normal classes in.

    So I don’t see it as a problem. As things stand, any denomination can opt to get release time and attend alternate classes or services.

    The thing that I do find strange is that LDS churches are the only ones in this are that are built so close to schools. I support their right to buy land and build wherever, and I understand why they would want to build close to schools for the Seminary kids, but what if every religion built their places of worship by a school? And why don’t they?

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