The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter to the 600 school districts of Ohio demanding that the districts reject the implementation of the Bible education nonprofit LifeWise Academy in Ohio public schools. “FFRF has recently received reports from concerned Ohioans regarding LifeWise Academy’s increasing presence in Ohio’s public school districts. 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,” wrote Samantha Lawrence of the FFRF. The program, which is a “release time” program, permits kids to leave school for one hour to an off-campus site where they can learn about the Bible. FRFF objected to the course, stating that non-attending students would feel singled out for not attending and that the hour away from classes would disrupt student learning.

The FFRF is not the only one with complaints against the program. In February, a man by the name of Bill Bryant wrote a letter to the editor of The Times Leader, accusing the program of being Christian nationalism. “Not content to home-school their children or send them to private Christian schools, Evangelicals are increasingly clamoring for school boards to acquiesce to their theocratic demands. Sadly, school boards seem all too willing to bulldoze the wall between church and state, reintroducing sectarian Christianity into our schools,” wrote Bryant. He objected to “mythical stories” being “taught as real,” asserting such biblical teachings like Adam and Eve and the creation of the universe by God “directly contradict what students are being taught in their science and history classes.” He accused the program of being a cover for indoctrination, with the purpose of maintaining the United States as a Christian nation, which he stated could lead to an authoritarian dictatorship. “Who audits the LifeWise program? Who selects their administrators? Shouldn’t the LifeWise creators, administrators, teachers, etc., be checked out and licensed? There are so many questions left unanswered for a program that should never be legal in the first place. No, no, no to LifeWise Christian nationalism!” he concluded. 

LifeWise is a voluntary program that, as FRFF admitted, is constitutionally permissible in public schools so long as the courses are taught off-campus and the school does not directly promote the club. It was started by Christian apologist Joel Penton and will currently be implemented in over 300 schools nationwide, with over 35,000 students attending. In response to the FFRF’s objections, a LifeWise spokesperson was grateful. “Our greatest obstacle is not enough people know about the amazing opportunity LifeWise offers students, so we appreciate the FFRF investing their resources to help spread the word,” LifeWise responded. “They did a wonderful job pointing out released time religious instruction as an entirely legal option for schools and families. We trust school officials and parents to make good educational decisions for their communities without being bullied by the efforts of outside activists.”

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