An Ohio-based Christian ministry that provides biblical education to public school students expects an estimated 30,000 children to be enrolled in the program this coming academic year.

LifeWise Academy, an organization launched in 2019 that provides released-time religious instruction for public school students, recently announced that more than 300 schools across 11 states will participate in the program.

In addition to Ohio, other states where the program will be offered include Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

LifeWise founder and CEO Joel Penton told The Christian Post that the program went from being in 133 public schools last year to around 315 this year.

Penton partially attributed the sharp increase to his organization’s “simple 10-Step launch process that any community can initiate.”

“It begins with local communities cultivating interest through our ‘Community Interests List’ signature campaign that can be found on our website After interest grows, we then establish local steering committees and formulate a plan to launch,” he said.

Although bringing religion into a public education context can often be a lightning rod for controversy, Penton said that LifeWise has “received far less resistance than we anticipated.”

“Most schools and parents are very open to the idea. Schools know there is a great need in the lives of students. And seeing as it’s an entirely optional program, there simply aren’t many people who see it as a problem,” Penton continued.

Release-time programs involve public school students leaving campus during school hours to take part in religious instruction with the permission of parents and the school itself. The concept was outlined by the 1952 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Zorach v. Clausonwhere the high court determined the practice was constitutional.

Under released time laws, students are released from public school during the school day to attend religious classes off school property as long as they are privately funded and have parental approval.

Although other released-time programs exist, LifeWise claims to be the only replicable model being adopted broadly by communities nationwide. What started with just two Ohio public schools in 2019 will spread to hundreds of other schools nationwide in 2023-2024.

Penton believes released-time programs are the “single greatest missed opportunity to impact the next generation of public school students with Biblical literacy.”

“For decades, faith-based organizations have been imparting Scripture and the value of faith with public school students before and after school. But the students who most need to be reached are often missed due to logistical and scheduling challenges,” Penton said. “Operating during school hours, with the permission of both parents and school administrators, has allowed us to better integrate into the school’s culture and reach those previously left out.”

According to the progressive Jewish advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League, released-time programs are constitutional as long as “the religious classes take place off school grounds if no public school funds are expended, and if school officials or teachers do not promote program attendance through coercion or other means.”

“A released time program must be structured to avoid any perception of public school promotion or endorsement of religious instruction,” the ADL continued.

“If any element of the program gives the impression of public school support for religion — or if any actual support is given — then the program will likely be struck down by the courts as a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

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