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FFRF keeps Ohio students safe from religious indoctrination program

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has made certain that students in Fredericktown, Ohio, will not be pressured to participate in an evangelical release time bible study program.

A concerned district community member informed the state/church watchdog that schools within the district had been promoting and encouraging students to attend LifeWise Academy’s release time bible study classes. Per LifeWise’s website, their classes provide “Bible-based character education to public school students” during regular school hours. LifeWise’s curriculum is “designed to take students through the entire Bible” over a period of five years. Attending LifeWise Academy requires students to miss roughly an hour of class each week.

FFRF was informed that schools in Fredericktown Local School District allowed representatives of LifeWise to come into the schools last fall to promote LifeWise and recruit students. In one instance, Fredericktown Elementary School’s principal, Matthew Caputo, led LifeWise’s representatives around the school during the school day and allowed representatives to recruit elementary school students to attend LifeWise’s bible classes.

Additionally, when a Hindu student informed one of LifeWise’s representatives that they are Hindu, the representative responded by telling the student that they needed Jesus and to ask their parents to come to LifeWise’s classes. Reportedly, LifeWise’s representatives pressure students to ask their parents for permission to attend these classes.

FFRF wrote to the district and demanded that it ensure its schools cease illegally promoting and encouraging student attendance at this evangelical Christian bible study class.

“A public school violates the Constitution by promoting and encouraging students to participate in religious release time classes,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote. “Here, the district’s schools have repeatedly violated the Constitution by allowing LifeWise’s representatives to enter its schools to recruit students for LifeWise’s bible study classes.”

FFRF pointed out that while the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of release time classes, it didn’t permit schools to promote or encourage participation in these programs. Schools also cannot legally allow released time representatives to solicit student participation during school hours or at school-sponsored events. By promoting and encouraging student attendance at these religious classes, the district inappropriately and needlessly alienated students and families who practice a minority religion, as well as those students who are a part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

After months of silence, FFRF received an email from District Superintendent Gary Chapman.

“The District promptly investigated the allegations detailed by FFRF in your letter dated October 25, 2023. Following the investigation, we reminded administrators to refrain from actions that could be viewed as promoting or discouraging participation in any religious release time program,” Chapman wrote. “In addition, the District reaffirmed its policies with the local LifeWise officials, including the prohibition of soliciting student participation during school hours or at school-sponsored events.”

FFRF is pleased to hear that students’ First Amendment rights are being prioritized over religious indoctrination.

“These students have the right to be free from religious dogma during school hours, and the district needed to be reminded of that right,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “LifeWise representatives cannot be allowed free rein to pressure students into participating in their program.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,000 members and two chapters in Ohio. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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