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A new study is showing the impact permitting prayer in public schools has on the school’s culture. Joel Penton, founder and CEO of LifeWise Academy, recently commissioned a study to explore the effects of his program on the schools he serves. LifeWise is a program that allows public school students to receive Bible education during school hours. The program is constitutionally permissible because the classes take place off school premises during allowed “release time” from school, are voluntary, and are not directly promoted by the school that offers it. As the site notes on its website, “Did you know 8 in 10 American youth don’t attend church, but 9 in 10 attend public school? LifeWise Academy ( exists to reach the unchurched students in America’s public schools with the Gospel.”

Penton stated that the study, which compared schools with the LifeWise program against schools without it, showed an increase in attendance. “Kids are that much more interested in going to school that there’s, in fact, a net increase in class time if LifeWise is implemented. Many more kids come to school so much more regularly that they actually get a net increase in class time,” he told CBN Digital. Behavior actually improves as well. “In-school suspension numbers drop, and out-of-school suspension numbers drop, as well. And, so now it’s a much easier case when we go to principals … and superintendents, even if they’re not Christians, to say, ‘Hey, do you want your attendance to go up? Do you want suspensions to go down? Here’s a program that doesn’t cost you a penny; it engages the community and will have this impact,” said Penton. The program has grown tremendously since it was started in 2 schools in 2019. According to Penton, the program now operates in 15 states and 340 schools. In Ohio, where LifeWise is based, the program is due to run in a quarter of the 600 school districts in the state. Penton said that in some of the schools with the program, up to 90 percent of the student body participates. Host Billy Hallowell noted that the majority of kids attending these schools are not from Christian households.

The program hasn’t been without its detractors. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to all the schools in Ohio to warn against the program. While the FFRF did acknowledge that the program was allowed by the Constitution, it stressed that the program is not mandatory and that schools should not feel forced into permitting it. “Public school districts are not legally required to authorize released time Bible study classes. However, districts throughout the state have unfortunately begun approving LifeWise’s released time Bible study classes for operation without fully understanding how to avoid violating the Constitution or how large-scale released time Bible study programs like LifeWise can negatively impact schools’ educational goals,” the letter noted. Penton welcomed the attention. “They almost made a really great legal case for how it is legal,” he said. He later added that they thanked the FFRF for spreading the word.

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