Faithwire, by Tré Goins-Phillips: A prominent atheist organization is demanding Ohio school districts block an off-campus Bible study that students can engage in during school hours.
In a letter sent Tuesday to some 600 public schools across the state, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation rebuked the school districts for the approval of a time-released Bible study program hosted by the Ohio ministry LifeWise Academy.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, argued in a statement students who participate in the program are “being punished by losing hundreds of hours of academic instruction to LifeWise’s released-time Bible study classes,” adding that, if parents want their children to be exposed to biblical teachings, they should find ways to “do it without cutting into valuable school hours.”
“The released-time program involves a public school allowing students to attend religious instruction during school hours, provided that it is off-campus and not directly endorsed by the school itself,” wrote Gaylor.
FFRF legal fellow Samantha Lawrence stated Ohio law “does not require allowing this disruption to the school day” and urged schools that may be allowing students to participate in LifeWise Academy studies to “reconsider this policy.”
The legal fellow went on to argue the goal of LifeWise Academy is to “indoctrinate and convert public school students to evangelical Christianity by convincing public school districts to partner with them in bringing LifeWise released-time Bible classes to public school communities.”
“FFRF has received several complaints from families in different school districts alleging that non-attending students were given busy work, or no work at all, as a consequence of staying behind during released time classes,” claimed Lawrence.
A spokesperson for LifeWise Academy, however, is thanking the FFRF for the free publicity.
In a statement to The Christian Post, a representative for the ministry said, “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.”
“They did a wonderful job pointing out released-time religious instruction as an entirely legal option for schools and families,” the spokesperson said of the FFRF. “We trust school officials and parents to make good educational decisions for their communities without being bullied by the efforts of outside activists.”
This spring, LifeWise Academy founder Joel Penton spoke with CBN’s Faithwire about the legality of the faith-based program.
“We were inspired by a program that started in my hometown in 2012,” he said. “People in my hometown started what’s known as a Released Time religious instruction program. Very few people are aware that, in 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students can be released from public school during school hours to attend religious classes.”
Penton was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Zorach v. Clauson, when the justices determined time-released programs are both constitutional and permissible.
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” Psalm 10:4.