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Teaching the Bible to Public School Students? Yep, Here's How...

John Stonestreet and Jared Hayden | BreakPoint, BreakPoint | Updated: Apr 05, 2024
Teaching the Bible to Public School Students? Yep, Here's How...

Teaching the Bible to Public School Students? Yep, Here's How...

In March 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that religious education in public schools violated the separation of church and state. According to McCollum v. Board of Education, even off-site “release time” programs that secured parental consent amounted to the establishment of religion and was thus a violation of the First Amendment.

However, just four years later, in Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court corrected their earlier decision and established that “release time” programs do not entail the “establishment of religion” prohibited by the First Amendment. If they are privately funded, held off school property, and secure parental consent for participating students, religious release time programs are legally protected and allowed to take place.States have further applied this decision by stating in their own laws that schools either “can” or “shall” have religious release time programs. Since that decision, local release time programs have been offered in various locations.

In 2018, LifeWise Academy began offering release time programs with biblically based Christian classes for public school students in Ohio, with an eye on spreading across the state and beyond. Initially, LifeWise set the ambitious goal of serving 25 schools by 2025. As of this year, LifeWise Academy has launched release time Bible-based education for public school students in over 300 schools in 12 states. Each week, 35,000 students are now being taught from the Bible about Jesus in LifeWise Academy programs, and this only continues to grow.

As you might imagine, and as a recent hit-piece published by NBC News illustrated, LifeWise has its critics. Opponents most often express concerns about the “separation of church and state” and the exclusion of non-religious kids from similar programming. For example, an English tutor who works at various schools served by LifeWise complained, “Whether it’s happening on campus or not, this program is bringing religion into the school. It’s not fair to the kids of different religions.”

The concerns about the “separation between church and state” are not new, but they are misguided. The phrase, which originally comes from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a Baptist congregation, is not in the Constitution. In fact, the intent of the Constitution’s framers was to prohibit the establishment of a government-backed religion and protect the free exercise of religion from government coercion.

Despite what critics suggest, LifeWise’s release time programming violates neither of these constitutional prohibitions, and it follows the criteria determined by the Supreme Court. LifeWise’s programs are privately funded, take place off-site, and secure parental permissions. Even better, LifeWise has figured out how to help those who want to start programs in their local schools navigate the logistical and legal challenges of each state and community.

I thank God that so many Christians are interested in taking the Bible back to public school students in such an effective way. As LifeWise founder Joel Penton shared with NBC:

It’s just a matter of people becoming aware that this is really possible and then giving them the tools. I think parents by and large have always wanted this as part of their kids’ education.

In fact, surveys say they do. According to LifeWise’s latest annual impact report, over three-quarters of parents with children enrolled in LifeWise said that the program helps their children “make better decisions.” Ninety-six percent of parents are willing to recommend LifeWise to other parents. 

And it’s not just parents who like LifeWise. Seventy-six percent of educators agree that schools and students benefit from attending LifeWise Academy. In schools where LifeWise has launched chapters, student attendance rates increase by 7% within the first year. In the second and third years, schools with LifeWise programs experience improvement in student behavior, as indicated by a decline of in- and out-of-school suspensions. By the fourth year, schools see improvements in academic performance. 

A secret of LifeWise is a clear curriculum, focused on teaching the Bible and Jesus as the only hope for the world. As another article noted, “LifeWise is a sign of hope amid an increasingly secularized culture.” In other words, LifeWise isn’t character education, though changes in character are one of the many outcomes of LifeWise.

Instead of waiting for the public school system to change, LifeWise and its volunteers are taking the only source of true change to students who need to hear it the most. To learn more about LifeWise Academy, including how to start a chapter in your own school district, check out lifewise.org 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Jared Hayden. If you’re a fan of Breakpoint, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/Inside Creative House

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.



Teaching the Bible to Public School Students? Yep, Here's How...