How Can Parents Bring Bible Education to Their Public School Children?

LifeWise is bringing Bible education back to public schools. 

The removal of the Bible from public schools is, for many Americans, the clearest expression of “the separation of church and state.” Which is why it’s so surprising to learn that the Bible and the public school day can legally co-exist.  In fact, it’s been that way for over 70 years.

A 1952 US Supreme Court decision in Zorach v. Clauson stated unequivocally that “released time religious instruction” was not only legal, but that “government should recognize and accommodate the religious beliefs of its citizens.” Based on the Court’s ruling, “released time” was legal provided it met three criteria. The religious instruction must be:

  1. Off school property
  2. Privately funded
  3. Parent Permitted
If you’re shaking your head in disbelief right now, you’re not alone.

Joel Penton, the founder and CEO of LifeWise, had the same reaction when he first stumbled upon a released time program in Van Wert, Ohio in 2018. “My mind was completely blown,” Joel recounts. “I just kept thinking: Wait, they’re teaching the Bible to public school students DURING SCHOOL HOURS?! How is this possible?”

That day Joel sat in on the program’s board meeting and learned that over 90% of their elementary school was attending Bible class. It was then they asked Joel a question that changed the course of his life. He would ever-after refer to this question as “the riddle.” It was simple: “Why doesn’t every community have one of these?”

Today, LifeWise is preparing to launch released time Bible classes in over 300 schools in 12 states for the 2023-2024 school year.

It would seem that they’ve answered “the riddle”. “It’s the barriers to entry,” Joel explains in his new book, During School Hours, in which he addresses this very topic. “You basically have to start a private school, develop curriculum, communicate with your local school board and administration, handle payroll, HR, logistics, policies, and the list goes on. It’s not that released time programs didn’t exist after 1952. They did exist; they were just all reinventing the wheel one school at a time. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but after 70 years, less than 1% of public school kids had access to a released time bible education class.”

Joel wasn’t satisfied with that. “We know that 8 out of 10 kids do NOT attend church, but 9 out of 10 kids DO attend public school.”  And so LifeWise was founded with the mission to “reach unchurched students in public schools with the gospel through a replicable released time religious instruction program.”

Since launching in 5 schools in 2019, LifeWise has reinstalled bible education into the public school day in rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Many of those programs exceeding 70% participation rates within the student body. In addition to the over 15,000 students currently enrolled in LifeWise classes, communities in 23 states have begun the process of starting a LifeWise program by completing their Community Interest List. Anyone can find their school district on the LifeWise site at LifeWise.org/interest/ and sign their community interest list, volunteer, donate, or enroll their child if there is already an active program.

LifeWise has experienced broad support from the communities they serve. In a recent survey with over 1,000 parental responses, 96% said they recommend other parents enroll their children in LifeWise. Similarly, 76% of educators agreed that their school and students benefit from LifeWise.

“We believe this is the greatest missed opportunity to reach the next generation with the gospel,” Joel said in a recent interview with CBN. When asked how parents and communities can help, Joel responded, “It all starts with the Community Interest List. Go on our website, Lifewise.org, find your school, and sign the list to voice your support today.”

You can find more information about LifeWise Academy here.
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