Released Time Religious Instruction FAQ

Released Time Religious Instruction (RTRI) is where pub­lic school chil­dren are tak­en off school grounds to attend a reli­gious class, under the guise of “char­ac­ter build­ing”, dur­ing the school day. RTRI is con­sti­tu­tion­al and is allowed under Ohio law but we here at SHoWLE don’t sup­port the effort and have put this page togeth­er to give you the infor­ma­tion need­ed to make an informed deci­sion.

In Ohio, RTRI is cov­ered under Ohio Revised Code 3313.6022. The big take­away is that school dis­tricts aren’t required to adopt RTRI poli­cies.

Other points from the law:

(1) The stu­den­t’s par­ent or guardian gives writ­ten con­sent.

(2) The spon­sor­ing enti­ty main­tains atten­dance records and makes them avail­able to the school dis­trict the stu­dent attends.

(3) Transportation to and from the place of instruc­tion, includ­ing trans­porta­tion for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, is the com­plete respon­si­bil­i­ty of the spon­sor­ing enti­ty, par­ent, guardian, or stu­dent.

(4) The spon­sor­ing enti­ty makes pro­vi­sions for and assumes lia­bil­i­ty for the stu­dent.

(5) No pub­lic funds are expend­ed and no pub­lic school per­son­nel are involved in pro­vid­ing the reli­gious instruc­tion.

(6) The stu­dent assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty for any missed school­work.

LifeWise Academy

The largest orga­ni­za­tion push­ing RTRI in Ohio is Lifewise Academy found­ed by for­mer foot­ball play­er Joel Penton. According to a recent post on Ohio Capital Journal:

LifeWise Academy enrolls near­ly 30,000 stu­dents from more than 300 schools across more than 12 states. LifeWise has a strong pres­ence in Ohio. LifeWise will be in more than 170 Ohio school dis­tricts by next school year — more than a quar­ter of the state’s school dis­tricts.

Lifewise works with local vol­un­teer groups to estab­lish an acad­e­my in a dis­trict with the goal of reach­ing all the stu­dents and all of a dis­trict build­ings. The local group rais­es the mon­ey to oper­ate the acad­e­my and Lifewise claims it can cost up to $300 a stu­dent which would include pay­ing teach­ers, loca­tion rental or mort­gage, and trans­porta­tion to and from the class. LifeWise pro­vides oper­a­tional sup­port, cur­ricu­lum, and lia­bil­i­ty insur­ance.

The LifeWise class teach­es the Christian Bible only.

LifeWise Academy main­tains a high view of the author­i­ty of Scripture and we align our­selves with his­toric, ortho­dox Christian beliefs as expressed in the Nicene Creed. We believe the sto­ry­line of Scripture that cli­max­es in the cen­tral gospel mes­sage, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead. We believe this gospel is true and essen­tial and announces the way by which sin­ners are rec­on­ciled to God.

This direct­ly con­flicts with the goal of pub­lic schools to be inclu­sive. The class also has noth­ing to do with any core cur­ricu­lum of a pub­lic school dis­trict and it has noth­ing to do even tan­gen­tial­ly with any­thing taught in the schools. LifeWise is a week­day Sunday school and is not inclu­sive of any oth­er reli­gious beliefs.

Some par­ents believe that for chil­dren to grow into pro­duc­tive indi­vid­u­als they need reli­gious instruc­tion and it must be done either in school or part of the school day.

All par­ents should have a right to direct the reli­gious edu­ca­tion of their chil­dren but if they want their child to attend Sunday school dur­ing the week then they should send their chil­dren to a reli­gious based school not a pub­lic school.

And what about the chil­dren who don’t attend because they aren’t Christian or the cor­rect kind of Christianity or the par­ents sim­ply object? Kids today strug­gle with peer pres­sure and bul­ly­ing and we just feel the kids that attend LifeWise will bul­ly or make fun of the kids who don’t attend.

Joel Penton

LifeWise claims they are teach­ing char­ac­ter val­ues. Teaching kids char­ac­ter val­ues or moral­i­ty can be done with­out using reli­gion. The Golden Rule is one of the old­est val­ues in human his­to­ry — even old­er than what we know as Christianity. The goal of LifeWise is to indoc­tri­nate and con­vert vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren into Christianity. Is that some­thing we real­ly want to hap­pen. Can you image if a Muslim acad­e­my tried to get start­ed?

LifeWise isn’t the only attempt to insert reli­gion back into pub­lic schools. Joel Penton, the founder of LifeWise, is a moti­va­tion­al speak­er who sets up pub­lic school assem­blies under the guise of “char­ac­ter build­ing” and then dur­ing the assem­bly — which isn’t vol­un­tary — he entices the kids to attend a church ser­vice out­side of the school day at a near­by church or some­times where the school assem­bly took place.

LifeWise is con­nect­ed to sev­er­al groups that helped write the Project 2025 book that con­ser­v­a­tives plan on imple­ment­ing in the next Republican pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion. LifeWise has received grants of approx­i­mate­ly $4 mil­lion dol­lars from some groups that fund and sup­port known hate groups. It has been fea­tured on the media chan­nels of sev­er­al known hate groups like Focus on the Family. LifeWise was able to pur­chase a new head­quar­ters build­ing for cash, yet they require local groups to raise thou­sands of dol­lars to estab­lish a LifeWise pro­gram in their dis­trict.

Why You Should Be Concerned

  1. LifeWise refus­es to divulge any­thing about their com­pa­ny such as the spe­cif­ic cur­ricu­lum used keep­ing par­ents from mak­ing an informed deci­sion.
  2. LifeWise claims they do back­ground checks on every­one involved. Since the peo­ple who work with LifeWise aren’t school employ­ees the dis­tricts ARE NOT doing back­ground checks. The back­ground checks are like cred­it reports and are noth­ing like checks done for pub­lic school teach­ers.
  3. No mat­ter what the law says and how many waivers are signed, the school dis­trict will still be respon­si­ble should some­thing hap­pen to the chil­dren.
  4. LifeWise teach­es only the Christian Bible and only their ver­sion of the Christian Bible exclud­ing not only oth­er faiths and no faith but also oth­er Christian sects like Catholicism.
  5. Schools have a busy day of course work and test­ing. There is not time to basi­cal­ly stop all that so kids can go to bible school in the mid­dle of the day. The begin­ning or end of the day is a bet­ter fit.
  6. LifeWise is not respon­si­ble for what hap­pens to chil­dren who don’t par­tic­i­pate — most are put in a study room to do busy work so that LifeWise kids don’t miss any new work.
  7. While LifeWise does­n’t open­ly pros­e­ly­tize in school they do give enrolled stu­dents can­dy and oth­er prizes to take back and show the kids who did­n’t par­tic­i­pate how great the class was and how much fun they had to use peer pres­sure to get more kids to attend. This is uneth­i­cal to say the least. There is also the issue bul­ly­ing.
  8. There have been reports from dis­tricts that have LifeWise that in vio­la­tion of state law, admin­is­tra­tors and teach­ers have been recruit­ing stu­dents to attend the class.
  9. Once RTRI is approved in a dis­trict, it is open to ANY 3rd par­ty that meets the thin require­ments in state law. Any group with the mon­ey to set­up the infra­struc­ture for a “class” can set up shop and enroll stu­dents. The dis­trict has no over­sight beyond tak­ing atten­dance.

What can you do to help?

Communicate with your school board if LifeWise is try­ing to estab­lish itself in your dis­trict. Share the infor­ma­tion in this FAQ and let the Board know they don’t have to adopt RTRI poli­cies that groups like LifeWise use to get estab­lished. School Boards can also rescind a cur­rent RTRI pol­i­cy or revise it to address the major con­cerns not­ed here. It is impor­tant to note that school boards can’t approve or deny spe­cif­ic pro­grams only the pol­i­cy that allows chil­dren to be excused to attend.

Communicate with par­ents. There can be results if you group togeth­er with oth­er par­ents who are opposed to LifeWise and you let the dis­trict know about your oppo­si­tion.

If it is approved, make sure LifeWise fol­lows the law and that no dis­trict employ­ees pro­mote or pro­vide resources to LifeWise. If you find vio­la­tions , let your school board know about it and make these vio­la­tions pub­lic.

If you are high­ly moti­vat­ed, try to estab­lish an alter­na­tive char­ac­ter build­ing pro­gram not based on reli­gion or the Bible. But if you plan to offer an alter­na­tive make sure you are ready to actu­al­ly do it just like a LifeWise group — have a loca­tion, instruc­tors, lia­bil­i­ty insur­ance and fol­low the Ohio revised code. If you offer it and don’t actu­al­ly plan to do it you will be tak­en less seri­ous­ly by a school board.

Do a records request from the school dis­trict to see what the atten­dance num­bers are and how many per­mis­sion slips have been turned in. You can also request any emails or cor­re­spon­dence between the school dis­trict and LifeWise and the local group. School dis­tricts are required to pro­vide records if request­ed.

If you believe there have been vio­la­tions of the law and ethics you can con­tact one of the reli­gious free­dom groups for help. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation are good places to start.

You can fol­low this issue through the group Parents Against LifeWise. They have a web­site, Facebook group, and mate­r­i­al you can share with oth­er par­ents. The group is also look­ing for par­ents and cur­rent pub­lic school teach­ers who will go on record about their per­son­al expe­ri­ences with LifeWise. There is a need to col­lect actu­al evi­dence of vio­la­tions of the law.

You can also fol­low this issue through the Honesty in Ohio Education web­site.

For more information:

We done a few pod­cast seg­ments on Released Time Religious Instruction and LifeWise in par­tic­u­lar you might want to check them out at Glass City Humanist.

Deception and Influence: A Close Look at LifeWise Academy (inter­view with founders of Parents Against LifeWise)

Release Time Religious Instruction Is Unethical
Breaking Down Societal Norms: Henry Rollins and Release Time Religious Education
Defending Church-State Separation: A Conversation with Andrew Seidel

Other information:

LifeWise 2022 990 Tax Return