Indiana legislators are considering a bill that would allow “released-time” religious instruction for students during the school day at the discretion of their parents.
The bill, HB 1137, passed the House last week and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
If signed into law, HB 1137 would allow parents to pick up their child during the school day and transport them to a local church or other religious institution for instruction of up to 120 minutes per week.
To be eligible to participate, students must not be “habitually truant” and must be in academic good standing.
Joel Penton, who founded a company specializing in Christian released-time instruction, spoke to The Lion about the benefits of such educational freedom.
“As Christians, we know there’s an invisible and eternal impact anytime you’re able to share scripture with others,” the CEO of LifeWise Academy said. “We also see mountains of anecdotal stories that just flood in every day about changed lives of students and whole families getting reconnected to churches.
“Someone just two days ago sent in a video of a girl being baptized who requested to be baptized wearing her LifeWise t-shirt. It’s those things, the eternal impact as well as the life-change we get to see, that are the main motivators.”
LifeWise points to the 1952 Supreme Court case Zorach v. Clauson for establishing the legal protection for released time religious instruction. In an explanation video, an attorney notes that LifeWise’s program meets the Supreme Court’s standards by being conducted off public school campuses, being funded privately rather than through state dollars and requiring parental permission for students to participate.
Penton told The Lion that LifeWise launched its first two programs in 2019 and set a goal of serving students in 25 schools by the year 2025. By 2021, LifeWise Academy was already serving students in 36 schools, and today, more than 320 schools.
Penton says it isn’t only church-attending parents who are interested in the faith-based values taught through time-release programs.
“I know we can get the feeling that society is anti-Christian, but I’m not convinced that’s the case,” he said. “When we have 80 to 90% of a school sign up to be a part of this, even if only 20 to 30% of kids attend church, that shows that their parents really do value these things.
“They want their kids to learn things about sacrifice and honesty and kindness. They want their children to benefit from these things.”