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.

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. 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.

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.

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

We are also collecting personal stories from people who have experienced the LifeWise movement in their school and describing some of the violations they’ve seen. Any information published will not include any identifying information of the respondent.

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LifeWise 2022 990 Tax Return