A Christian leader on a mission to bring the Bible and truth to public school kids said atheist activists’ recent attacks on his organization have helped spread the word about his efforts.
Listen to them on the latest episode of “Quick Start” 👇
Joel Penton, founder and CEO of LifeWise Academy and author of “During School Hours: WHY and HOW LifeWise Academy is Reinstalling Religious Education into the Public School Day,” told CBN Digital his organization offers something truly compelling to American youths.
“LifeWise Academy provides Bible education to public school students during school hours, which to most people sounds crazy, because of the whole separation of church and state and how the Bible has been removed from the public school day,” Penton said. “But what very few people realize is that, in 1952, the Supreme Court actually ruled that public school students can be released from school during school hours to receive religious instruction.”
Such instruction must unfold off school property, be privately funded, and the kids participating must have parental permission. Penton said the legal reality of this has flown “under the radar for 70 years.”
Watch him explain:
He launched LifeWise Academy a few years ago after learning about the 1952 Release Time ruling in the Zorach v. Clauson Supreme Court case that found such instruction is constitutional and permissible, allowing kids to get religious instruction during the school day.
Penton launched with just two schools in 2019, with the effort quickly exploding to more than 340 schools across 15 states. Once a week, kids are bussed from their public schools to a local church or facility, with the schedule churning and rotating. For some schools with a plethora of kids in the program, the buses continue to run throughout the day as new groups shuffle to and from LifeWise.
With LifeWise making such a massive splash, it didn’t take long for the organization to come into the crosshairs of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist group based in Madison, Wisconsin. The group recently took action to dissuade schools from taking part.
“They sent a letter out to every single superintendent in the state of Ohio, in part, because LifeWise is spreading so rapidly in Ohio, and … next year we will be in a full quarter of the 600 school districts in the state,” Penton said. “But the letter didn’t necessarily make a strong case for why schools shouldn’t allow this type of thing.”
He said the FFRF simply wanted to let schools know they don’t have to allow LifeWise Academy, which, legally speaking, is true. In Ohio, districts can decline to allow students to use the Release Time ruling, though they are also free to allow the implementation of such programs if they so choose.
“Public school districts under Ohio law aren’t legally required to authorize release time for students to attend religious instruction off-campus during school hours,” the FFRF wrote.
But Penton said the FFRF actually made a “really great” case for why LifeWise and other programs like it are perfectly legal and permissible for districts to engage in. He also responded to the atheists’ letter with a fair amount of gratitude for the attention it garnered.
“We were asked to make a public comment about them sending this letter, because we heard about it and, of course, we publicly thanked the Freedom From Religion Foundation for investing their time and money to spread the word about LifeWise,” Penton said. “Because … when people learn about it, they tend to get pretty excited, and the people that don’t like it are a very, very small minority.”
Penton also discussed the fact that less than 20% of the kids participating in LifeWise attend church regularly. Meanwhile, in some schools, 80-90% of the student body opts to take part.
“We have one school that has over a thousand students in the school,” he said. “And over 900 of them are enrolled in LifeWise Academy.”
“I would say the Freedom from Religion Foundation realizes that there’s a lot of kids that are currently outside the faith that are being brought in and receiving Bible education,” Penton said. “Which, of course, is a wonderful thing, and it bothers them.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently responded to the FFRF’s letter with his own note, informing superintendents across Ohio that they’re legally permitted to participate in LifeWise and other programs like it.
“[He] said, just to clarify, release time is entirely legal,” Penton said. “I have to say it was amazing.”
But far beyond platitudes and areas of debate, Penton said he believes there’s evidence LifeWise Academy is very literally helping kids in all areas of their lives.
For now, Penton is focused on massive growth throughout new states and locations. Find out more about LifeWise Academy here.
***As the number of voices facing big-tech censorship continues to grow, please sign up for Faithwire’s daily newsletter and download the CBN News app, developed by our parent company, to stay up-to-date with the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***