Episode 38: Release Time Religious Instruction Is Unethical
We look at the use of Release Time Religious Instruction in some Northwest Ohio public schools and why the mixing of religion and the schools might be legal but it is at best unethical. We also share an update about the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie and this podcast.
01:15 Some announcements
10:33 Release Time Religious Instruction in Elwood
Note: During the segment about the Release Time Religious Instruction, we referred to the curriculum vendor as “Lifeways Academy”. That was not correct. The vendor is Lifewise Academy. We didn’t catch the error before editing the episode and elected not to rerecord the segment. We regret the error. — Doug Berger (Host).
Click Here to Read Full Transcript
Doug Berger 0:01
One of the primary objections I have is that the classes only teach one religious sect, Christianity and for one holy book, The Holy Bible, we can’t expect a school district to carve out release time for all of the religions wanting the same accommodation to indoctrinate their children, because eventually, you’d have all of the children at a school not being in school at some point during the day because they’re off getting religious instruction.
Voice Over 0:33
This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values by a humanist. Here’s your host, Douglas burger.
Doug Berger 0:42
In this episode, we look at the use of release time religious instruction in some Northwest Ohio Public Schools, and why the mixing of religion and the schools might be legal, but it is at best, unethical. We also share an update about the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie. And this podcast
Voice Over 1:01
Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.
Doug Berger 1:15
Thank you for joining us for another episode of Glass City Humanist. My name is Doug, I am your host. And before we get into the meat of today’s episode, I wanted to make a couple of announcements concerning our group secular humanists of Western Lake Erie and the podcast. The secular humanists of Western Lake Erie, we have tentatively started meeting in person again, we had a meeting in March, we have another meeting coming up in April the 19th. With we’re going to have an in person speaker, and it’s going to be at the Sanger branch library on Central Avenue starting at seven o’clock in the Community Room A and our speaker will be Bruce Gerencser, he is an atheist living in rural Northwest Ohio, which is odd in itself, as you know, coming from this area, and he spent 25 years as a Baptist minister at various churches around the country. And in 2005, he left the ministry and in 2008, he became an atheist. And so he has a website called The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser, which I like it, I’ve read quite a bit of it. My thing is about my interest is his stories about seeding churches, I appreciate those stories. So he’ll come and talk to us and talk about his journey to free thought and what it was like to be a Baptist minister and, and supporting the patriarchal society that a lot of these small Baptist churches feed into. So that’s going to be a good time. So, you know, join us for that. We know that some people are still cautious because of the pandemic. And we totally understand. Unfortunately, I tried, I have tried several times to livestream our meetings, when we have met in person. And because of either technical issues, or Terms of Service issues with some of the platforms, we have not been able to do it, for example, YouTube, I wanted to use YouTube. And in order to use my mobile phone, to livestream our meeting, we would have to have 50 subscribers on our YouTube channel, we have 26. And even though we’re a nonprofit, and we’re registered with Google and all that stuff, which I think is ridiculous. I understand the rule. I just think it’s ridiculous that it applies to nonprofits like ours. And now I can take my laptop in and set up a webcam and live stream, but I can’t do it from a mobile phone. It doesn’t make any sense anyway. So hopefully, I’m going to record it and it will be the meeting will be available probably a week or two later on our YouTube channel. The announcement that I wanted to make about the podcast several episodes ago, probably five or six, eight episodes maybe we’re in 38 probably starting with 32 or 33. We made I made the change to go with a video first recording style. And what that meant was I had I have a little green screen here my desk and a webcam and and I have OBS recording software and I would do the podcast as a video. Then I would edit the video and use the and then strip the sound out To do the audio part that I send out to the various podcast catchers like Apple, podcast, Google, and Spotify, etc, then I would take the the video and put graphics in it and, and jazz it up and then put it behind a paywall on our Ko-Fi page or donation page as an incentive for people to donate money to the podcast, then I would release it to the public then later, so that you could watch it on YouTube. Well, I am making another change, I am not going to do let me backtrack, I’m not going to do what I have been doing in regards to the video part of the podcast. Mainly because it’s been hard to get guests to come on and talk.
Doug Berger 6:00
I would like to have a guest I would like to speak to a guest every single episode. And we’ve done it in spurts. Like in the fall, summer and fall. Last year, we had four or five people in a row, which was great. Because I happen to attend the AHA convention that year and and ask people and I’m going to do that again this year too at the convention. And that worked out well. But I haven’t been able to get a steady stream. And I want to have at least two episodes a month. And so you know, I’m limited in getting people to, to come on the show. I’ve sent out emails to various people that I want to talk to. And so it’s an open invitation if you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re humanist or an atheist, and you think that you are an expert in some area, a topic or are such you know, go to go to our website, glasscityhumanist.show, and send me an email sent with the contact form with your pitch, and we’ll get back to you anyway. So because I’m not getting every episode, a guest, most of the videos have just been me talking in front of a green screen. I don’t want to do that. I think it’s boring. Even putting graphics up, I think it’s still boring to me. I’m sure it’s boring to video people. You know, it’s the difference between my ugly mug and a static image, you know, it’s the same excitement level. And, and so what the change I’m making the Tweak I’m making to the process is Oh, and also trying to edit these videos and put up graphics and make it jazzy and make it look professional is a lot of work. It takes several, several hours to put these videos together. And so what the change that I’m making is that if I do not have a guest, I will not do a video with me talking in front of a green screen, just me if I don’t have a guest, it will be a static image and some graphics because I come up with graphics to do the show art and things like that, I’ll put that up, I’ll put up the music. And I’ll still put it up on on YouTube. So that will not be an incentive for people to donate. So I’m going to do away with that part of it and try to come up with something else. But I’m not going to if it if there’s no guest I will not be on camera by myself. Okay, and so that way, then it helps me. It helps me do what I want to do and get more content out to you. So we can talk about humanism. So the points let me reiterate the points if you if you want to be a guest on this show, if you think you have something interesting to say, or you know, somebody who has something interesting to say that you think might be a good guest, send me he’ll go to our website, fill out a contact form, and we’ll talk about it. The second is that we’re still doing video for you the YouTube channel. But if I don’t have a guest, I won’t be on the video. It’ll be a static image was with I have a background that runs for 60 minutes of free background, you know, so it’s gonna be visually okay. It’s just not I’m, it’s gonna be less work for me to do. Okay. So hopefully, hopefully I’ll make less work for me. Allow me to generate more content, and so you can enjoy more episodes. Glass City Humanist.
Voice Over 10:05
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Doug Berger 10:33
Recently, I became aware of a local school near near where I live, Elmwood local schools in Wood County have decided to institute a release time religious instruction period for elementary students starting I believe it’s going to be starting next school year. And it would be it would use what’s called release time. And release time was allowed in a couple of US Supreme Court cases back in the 40s and 50s. So it’s McCollum v Board of Education. 1948 and Zorach v. Clauson 1952. And what that meant was that school districts should would allow students to leave school in order to receive religious instruction. Or, in when I was a kid, people used release time, on Ash Wednesday to go to the local Catholic Church and get the ashes put on their forehead, and then they would come back. And basically, this is time that a student can go free time ahead of time, you know, they have to say, Hey, I’m going to leave that day to take care of whatever religious thing that they wanted to do either go to mass or religious instruction. It’s hasn’t been used as often. But I’ve been noticing a trend of this being used. And, and what it is, is that, that these court cases set up these guidelines, so that this release time religious instruction didn’t violate the First Amendment. First of all, religion classes must be voluntary. Parents are required to get permission for their children to attend. And it’s written permission. The class can’t be held on school grounds. Now, classes can be held after school and on in a school building. But that’s a different legal issue. So these religion instruction classes can’t be held on school grounds. The class can’t be taught by school employees. So you can’t have Miss Mavis, your English teacher teaching you about creation science in this release time class. And then finally, no tax funds can be spent on the classes at all. And, and the way that it’s been working out, the programs that I’m aware of now are it’s a volunteer committees, and they raise money, private donations, and it can cost anywhere from 15 to $300 per student to do these classes, depending on the area and what regulations, other regulations that they have to abide by. My group, secular humanists, Western Lake Erie, we acknowledge that release time, religious instruction is legal. But we object to it and I object to a personally on the principle of religious freedom that this country is supposed to stand for. There have been plenty of ideas in the past that were once legal in this country. You know, they passed Supreme Court muster, that are no longer legal and no longer allowed, like segregation, and not allowing women to own property. So I believe that any religious instruction should be left to the parents and their religion completely outside the school day. I don’t believe that there should be this religious class that kids go to in the middle of the day. One of the primary objections I have is that the classes only teach one religious sect Christianity, and for one holy book, The Holy Bible. Now, we can’t expect a school district to carve out release time for all of the religions wanting the same accommodation to indoctrinate their children, because eventually, you’d have all of the children at a school not being in school at some point during the day because they’re off getting religious instruction.
Doug Berger 15:15
And again, while release time is legal, it becomes unfair because it doesn’t accommodate any religion besides Christianity. Good luck. If you’re Muslim, in a, in a school district, like let’s say, Elmwood and you try to have released time for teaching for classes in in Islam. Good luck trying to have that. I just think that it’s too subjective approval or disapproval. That’s why it shouldn’t be involved in the school districts at all. Also, these this release time religious instruction that favors Christianity only supports the point of view of Christianity, or whatever Christianity that they want to teach. And a lot of those points of view are opposite of what public school should be doing in the first place. The vendor that is providing the curriculum to Elmwood is called Lifewise Academy. And they have some sample material that they have available on their website. And one of them was a drawing. It was saved five, I think it was called Find the creation, find the creation scenes, and it was like one of those mazes with you connect the different areas with a try to do it. Anyway, it was like a puzzle. But I don’t think that is, you know, might be technically legal. But it’s unethical to be teaching a kid about creation during the school day when they’re going to go back to school and learn about evolution, which is the real and actual science that they need to be learning. And so the reason why the courts that are so are so strict about religion in public schools, is because a school is seen as an agent of the state. And laws that require attendance could be used to coerce a child. The claim that these classes are voluntary, does it address the real outcome? If Little Susie or Timmy isn’t allowed to attend, these children could be ostracized or bullied for non compliance by other children. And we’ve seen examples of this. You know, it’s perfectly okay perfectly legal, not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But we’ve had cases in the news where kids have been sent out of the room, and punished for not saying the pledge, we’ve had them bullied by other kids, because they didn’t say the Pledge. And I know, when I was a kid, we had sex education classes, that were highly regulated, in much the same way these these religious release time religious instruction times our classes, and that you had to have a written permission slip from a parent. And if you weren’t allowed, if the parents wouldn’t allow you to attend, you had to leave the room and go to study hall. And we had two kids in my class, my particular class, who were friends of mine, they were brothers and their parents were very, very, extremely religious. And they would not let them attend these this class participate in the class. So they had to go to study hall. And kids made fun of them. They bullied them, because they weren’t allowed to participate. And that’s what kids do. So just because it’s voluntary, doesn’t mean that somebody is not going to, to do it simply to belong. You know, and that’s another reason why there’s a court case before the court right now, about a football coach in Washington State, praying with his players. And that’s why it’s wrong for a coach to do that. You know, he’s claiming that it’s voluntary, that the kids don’t have to do it. But you have the football coach, somebody who puts you on a bench, say, hey, let’s pray, you’re going to pray because you want to play. The same with these religion classes. Some of these kids are going to go to these classes, and they’re not even it’s not even their religion, and they’re going to go because they don’t want to feel left out. And what happens if Timmy and Susie begged her parents to allow them to attend because all our friends are doing it and a low information parent signs off because their kids begged down? You know, none of that is voluntary. Not at all.
Doug Berger 19:58
You know, I think Any release time religious instruction should start if it’s going to be done, it should start with a meeting, an in person meeting between interested parents, the school district and the curriculum supplier, instead of just sending out a trivial letter with a form that way, then it’s there’s decision making that’s done based on the information. So you can ask questions and, and, and get information that way, instead of just getting a random letter and not understanding what it means and not being able to ask questions. I also object to the notion that children can only learn character values in a religious setting. That’s one of the big selling points of this curriculum is it teaches character values. That’s the whole reason. That’s the mask that they use to, to bring in the religion is they want to teach character skills to students try to modify their behavior. Try to make the school a safe place, and they think it’s done through religion. But that’s just wrong. In the example, materials provided by the vendor Lifewise being used to set up the classes it shows some example cards that are titled with general character values that everybody knows what they are gratitude, respect, responsibility, etc. Then they’re illustrated with what looks like Bible story artwork. Now, character values should be part of a school curriculum. But they tend to, but they should be applicable to people in a general sense. And not be made to seem like they only exist when supported by religion. Because again, gratitude, responsibility, respect, those are all important character traits that don’t require religion to exist. You know, I, you know, one of the first things that I learned in school was to share my toys. You know, that’s not, it wasn’t like, you know, Doug, you need to share your toys, you’re going to hell, you know, that was never the conversation. It’s just, you know, some people learn these things. And again, there are plenty of secular or non sectarian examples of character traits being taught and being learned, in children’s and young adult literature. You know, that’s pretty much their, their, their bread and butter. I mean, that’s pretty much one of the themes of many of these books like The Judy Blume books and encyclopedia Brown and other children’s literature, young adult literature. And so in the Lifewise materials that I looked at the Bible stories are just window dressing. To install religion during a school day, that’s all it is. The vendor also make some dubious statistical claims about their program about their curriculum. In an effort to make it look like that that program is actually good for children. They trot out the old tropes, that religious belief makes one happier, makes one less likely to do drugs. And that release time religious instruction can narrow the achievement gap by 50%. The achievement gap is one of those things that parents lament, it’s one of the driving ideas that they’re trying to make school go all year. You know, all year you got you would go to school, you would go to school, and like four or five or six week blocks and keep going because they believe that children, young children, especially kind of backtrack when they haven’t when they’re not in that structured environment, continually, and so Lifewise claims that these religion classes would continue that structure and and reduce that achievement gap by 50%. I don’t buy it. Because they only meet one day a week for an hour. Children don’t lose what they’ve learned in one hour. If that were the case, then there would be no study halls or recesses. It would be learn learn learn all day long, with only a break for lunch.
Doug Berger 24:42
And I don’t know about you, but I believe that children need to take breaks during the school day to relieve stress or boredom, or to blow off some steam. educational experts have decried for years, the removal of phys ed, art and music classes because schools are been forced to teach to a test, they just don’t, they don’t have the time or the resources to do phys ed art music classes anymore because they have to get these kids to pass these tests that is used to show progress. Rather than showing that a kid is a productive citizen in his community, they have to have numbers and quantity, quantitative numbers. And so the arts and crafts and music and phys ed get left to the side, because that doesn’t help with the numbers. And I think that’s completely wrong. And so I think giving up a study and not a study hall for little kids, but getting giving up a free time or library period, to attend religious instruction. I don’t think that’s going to help. I mean, they, they trotted out some studies in their materials, they had some links to some studies, but it wasn’t specifically about release time, instructional periods, about religious instruction. It was about religious belief in general. And so I think, I would like to see some actual studies about about the particular curriculum. And then finally, the other concern that I had about this release time religious instruction, was that, at least in this in this specific example of Elmwood School District, that somebody that was on the volunteer committee setting up the classes, was appointed to the school board that then voted to adopt the curriculum. That’s kind of like a He claimed that he was going to step aside from the volunteer committee since he was on the school board now, but he still voted for it. And that that, to me shows conflict of interest. So here in Elmwood, they were estimating it was probably going to cost $45,000 to put these classes on, so they have until the fall to get it together. They’re going to meet in a community room. That happens to be an old school building. I think it was an old gymnasium. I think I’m remembering Elmwood correctly, that is the community center next to the school, so the kids will walk. They claim Lifewise claims that they have liability insurance. They also require that people that are involved with the classes be vetted and have background checks, which, okay. So that’s why it’s going to cost about, that’s why it’s going to cost about $45,000. Because they don’t have to transport the students. They don’t have to put them in a bus or a van. So just to reiterate, my point here is that, you know, this is a concern. In the article that I read, there are several, at least a handful of school districts in Northwest Ohio, that have this Lifewise Academy, in their during their school day. And again, even though it’s legal, I just don’t think it violates the spirit of the First Amendment. I really do. I think it violates the spirit. But of course, even though it’s legal, it’s gonna happen. So basically, what what I think that people should do is they should, you know, people, especially if you have children in public schools, and this comes around, watch what goes on very carefully, you know, make sure that they are following the guidelines, it’s voluntary, and they’re not pressuring kids to go. If you feel that your children have been pressured or, you know, have children that are being pressured to go no contact either Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the, the freedom from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and contact them and report it. Because that’s the only way that this is going to, they’re going to take a look at this and and try to make sure that the school is conforming. And also ask questions. You know, call the principal, ask them specifically about these programs. If you’re, if your children are being pressured or or feel like you’re being pressured, and
Doug Berger 29:43
make sure that they’re not overly promoting it during the school day and, you know, just make sure that they follow the guidelines in the law and keep an eye out in your local area.
Doug Berger 30:00
Hey everyone, this is your host Doug. I just wanted to jump in here briefly before we move on to let you know that I goofed in the just completed segment about the release time religious education curriculum being adopted in Elmwood schools. In throughout the segment, I mentioned the vendor of the curriculum as Lifeways Academy. That is incorrect. The correct name is Lifewise Academy. And I just did not want to record the whole entire segment again. And so I did not catch that mistake until I went to edit the episode. And I do regret the error and it should be correct in the transcripts and I will add a note to the show notes. Take care.
Voice Over 30:59
Thank you for listening. For information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie and is supported in part by a grant by the American Humanist Association. The AHA can be reached at americanhumanist.org SHoWLE can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content our theme music is Glass City Jam composed using the ampify studio See you next time.
[Transcript also available for offline reading HERE]
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.