Victory for Joy El Ministries Ends Government Interference With Gospel-Centered Program to Public School Students

Independence Law Center praises today’s ruling, freeing religious ministries in Pennsylvania to carry out their mission.

(HARRISBURG, PA – December 18, 2023) Today, in a 4-3 decision in CBM Ministries v. DOT, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania granted a victory to Joy El Ministries in a case involving overreaching government mandates that would have hindered its ability to operate a popular “released time” program.

“This is a great day for Joy El Ministries and the students they serve in its released time program,” stated Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel for the Independence Law Center. “Ministries should be free from arbitrary imposition of inapplicable state laws, and this case will enhance Joy El’s ability to serve school students. It’s a great outcome for a wonderful ministry.” The Independence Law Center represents Joy El Ministries along with Cornerstone Law Firm and Smith Bukowski.

Released time programs around the nation allow for public school students to receive religious instruction outside of school during the school day.

“Our volunteers at Joy El Ministries have invested countless hours with the school-aged children we serve — sharing the gospel of Christ’s love,” said Aaron Ziebarth, CEO of Joy El Ministries. “We’re thrilled with this decision so that we can continue to serve the children we love. We are grateful for the tireless prayer support.”

The longstanding policy with the Pennsylvania State Police and PennDOT has been a recognition that groups like Joy El Ministries may provide transportation for students to attend these released time programs, only so long as they didn’t call their vehicles “school buses” or include equipment like flashing lights. However, an issue arose when a state policeman reversed course, grounding many of Joy El’s buses and drivers for not complying with inapplicable standards only necessary for picking up and dropping off children along roadways — something Joy El never does.

The effort to stop Joy El from transporting children was carried out despite the fact that its drivers held all the proper licenses and its vehicles met all the required state safety inspections. The court held that the state police attempted to apply inapplicable standards related to picking up and dropping off children along the roadway, which only apply to public, private, and parochial schools, and that Joy El’s released time program is not a “school” and does not pick up or drop off children along roadways. 

As a result of today’s decision, groups like Joy El will be protected in their ability to carry out their ministry, serving children throughout the Commonwealth.

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Independence Law Center is a leading constitutional civil rights law firm.

To read the court ruling, click here. For more about this case, click here.