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LifeWise Academy is a Christian ministry that operates Bible instruction classes during school hours as part of released time programs available in several states. (LifeWise Academy)

More states adding LifeWise Academy’s program of offsite Bible instruction for students

LifeWise Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides offsite Bible instruction to public school students during classroom hours, is expanding its program to more states.

“Values of faith and the Bible are absolutely central to many families,” founder and CEO Joel Penton told the Associated Press. “And so they want to demonstrate to their children that it is central to their lives.”

A 1952 Supreme Court ruling centered on New York schools cleared the way for programs such as LifeWise. Individual places of worship often work with schools to sponsor programs off campus, and they are not regulated in some states. LifeWise programs will be available at more than 520 locations in 23 states next school year, up from 331 in 13 states this year. About 31,000 students attend LifeWise programs in the United States.

LifeWise officials addressed the Oklahoma and Ohio legislatures in support of laws that would require schools to cooperate with offsite religious programs, Penton said, and Oklahoma’s Republican governor signed one such bill into law last week. Similar bills have been introduced in Ohio, Nebraska, Georgia and Mississippi this year. Penton wants LifeWise to be available to 50 million public school students nationwide.

LifeWise Academy, based in Hilliard, Ohio, is funded by donors, including more than $13 million in contributions from July 2022 to June 2023, according to its latest federal report. The curriculum was developed in conjunction with the Gospel Project, a Bible study plan produced by an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, Penton said. Instructors are provided with guidance on how to respond to difficult questions, including about the afterlife and sex. LifeWise opposes same-sex marriage, as well as transgender and gender-fluid identities. “Our guide helps classroom educators address these questions with compassion, humility and respect,” Penton said.

LifeWise staff and volunteers either bus or drive students from school to the program sites, or use spaces near schools and supervise children walking there. LifeWise says it does not teach programs during classes such as math or reading, but rather during lunch, recess or electives including library, art or gym.

Christa Sullinger, 46, began sending her 10-year-old son to LifeWise in Garrett, Ind., last year. With baseball activities on Sundays, the family sometimes misses church and LifeWise fills in the gaps. “What a great way to solidify our faith,” she said.

–Dwight Widaman

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