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Deception and Influence: A Close Look at LifeWise Academy

Christian Nationalists have targeted public schools. They ban books and discrimnate against trans kids. LifeWise Academy a well funded evangelical group based in Columbus is trying to install their model religious class in all Ohio schools without being truthful or transparent about their activities. We talk to Molly Gaines and Zachary Parrish two parents who are fighting back with their group Parents Against LifeWise.

Episode 79: Deception and Influence: A Close Look at LifeWise Academy

Join us as we tackle the controversial presence of LifeWise Academy in Ohio’s public schools. LifeWise, a well-funded evangelical group, has been pushing religious classes under the guise of release time religious education. We discuss how they manipulate state laws to recruit elementary students to attend Bible classes off-campus, often misleading parents and school districts about their true intentions. Our guests, Molly Gaines and Zachary Parrish, co-founders of Parents Against LifeWise, share their personal journeys and experiences that led them to oppose LifeWise’s influence.

We uncover the troubling lack of accountability and transparency in schools regarding LifeWise’s programs. School districts are failing to track attendance and deflecting responsibility, leaving parents in the dark. We expose the concerning nature of LifeWise’s curriculum, which includes harmful rhetoric and inappropriate guidance on sensitive subjects such as family dynamics and gender identity. Through specific documents and personal stories, we highlight the need for vigilance and advocacy to protect children’s and parental rights in the educational system.

We also address the manipulative tactics LifeWise employs within communities, including the questionable legitimacy of its petition process and its MLM-like structure for fundraising. Our discussion reveals LifeWise’s troubling affiliations with right-wing extremist groups and figures, raising ethical and transparency issues. Additionally, we explore the implications of Ohio House Bill 445 on religious freedom in public schools and the broader concerns about education privatization. Join us for a compelling conversation with Molly and Zachary, who are dedicated to raising awareness and advocating for inclusive educational practices that respect diverse religious beliefs.

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Our Guests

Co-founders of Parents Against LifeWise

Molly Gaines

Molly Gaines – Concerned parent\community member, activist and advocate for our children’s right to the separation of Church and State. Her children were exposed to LifeWise at school.

Zachary Parrish

Zachary Parrish – A single father, and renounced Mormon who has been sounding the alarm about LifeWise Academy since 2021. It was at that time this program was first brought to his attention by his daughter’s 2nd grade teacher telling him about it during open house at Defiance City Schools (Defiance, Ohio).

After finding no support and almost zero information about this program in 2021, He’s been dedicated to spreading awareness & information about the dangers, complications and legal issues related to LifeWise Academy. Allowing this organization to proselytize using the precious and limited education time in our public schools is something everyone should be concerned about.

Extras:

Parents Against LifeWise : Public Facebook PagePrivate Facebook Group

Respect Public Schools (includes map of districts where LifeWise is active)

Honesty for Ohio Education

Transcript:

Read full transcript here

0:00:02 – Voice Over
This is Glass City Humanist a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, douglas.

0:00:11 – Douglas
Christian nationalists have targeted public schools. They ban books and discriminate against trans kids. Lifewise Academy, a well-funded evangelical group based in Columbus, is trying to install their model religious class in all Ohio schools, without being truthful or transparent about their activities. We talked to Molly Gaines and Zachary Parrish, two parents who are fighting back with their group Parents Against LifeWise.

0:00:41 – Voice Over
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.

0:01:00 – Douglas
My guest today is Zachary Parrish and Molly Gaines. They are co-founders of the Parents Against LifeWise and I want to thank you both for being with us today. Appreciate it. Yeah, thanks for having us. The state of Ohio has a state law that’s been on the books for about 10 years that school districts can have what’s called release time religious education and what that means is that, with parental permission, a kid can go to a Bible class off campus. The law was originally put on the books to allow high school students to receive course credit if they went and went to Bible class at some church or somewhere, but now it’s being manipulated and hijacked by a group called LifeWise and they are an evangelical Christian group that’s forcing school districts that have these policies to allow young elementary children to be taken off campus to attend a Bible class, and I think it’s once a week, or is it once a month, I forget it’s once a week once a week yep and that’s that’s like per grade.

0:02:14 – Zachary
Obviously they do it. They do it K through elementary most places, but they also have a middle school and high school program that they’re rolling out now as well and

0:02:15 – Douglas
so life wise is well funded and has a lot of muscle behind it, a lot of state leadership and things like that, and Zach and Molly are parents who decided to push back against the rising tide of LifeWise and they started Parents Against LifeWise and they also work with other like-minded groups who are also against it, and so we’ll go ahead and talk to them about it and feel free to jump in and start answering a question if you want to answer it, and and we’ll try to change it up a little bit so not everybody’s doing the same question um, I guess I’ll go with molly then. How did you get introduced to LifeWise?

0:03:04 – Molly
Actually not to tell you how to do your job, but it would be better if you started with Zach, because he was the first parent on the ground and it was his Reddit post that I found, and that was from years ago. Zach, you can tell more about it, Okay.

0:03:19 – Zachary
Yeah, I guess I was first introduced when my daughter was in second grade in 2001. And at Open House they sent home a letter and you know the teacher described it to me at open house. But the thing is they were putting her in a study hall in second grade, you know, not attending life-wise. The students would get put in the study hall and even the handouts that they sent home, like the class schedules themselves listed LifeWise as the class Like. I’ve got two copies of that from both years, when she was in second grade and in third grade, and that that’s really what got me started down the path.

And then, like Molly said, I put a big post on Reddit and it got quite a few hits, you know, a lot of comments and a lot of views. People still hit me up about it to this day, asking where they can learn more and stuff. So, yeah, that’s what got me started. I reached out to the FFRF and they sent a letter for me that first year and you know the school’s lawyers sent their letter back and basically called me a liar and that was pretty much the end of it, even though I have all the evidence still. You know I’ve got it all, but there’s only so much those organizations are going to do, unfortunately.

0:04:28 – Douglas
And what year was that, did that happen? 2001., oh, okay.

0:04:32 – Zachary
Oh, I’m sorry. No, no, I’m sorry. 2021. 21. Okay.

0:04:36 – Douglas
Yeah, sorry, I don’t think Joel Penton had even invented it yet, so no, yeah, 21.

0:04:42 – Zachary
I’m sorry.

0:04:43 – Douglas
And FFRF. Was that the letter that they sent to all the school districts, or was that just for you.

0:04:49 – Zachary
No, they sent one for me personally to the district.

0:04:52 – Douglas
Yeah and was that your similar experience, molly? Or that your kids brought something home and no, so my daughter.

0:05:05 – Molly
So actually, he’s going through this in 2021 and he has a daughter that’s in the school district at that time. I did not. My daughter was born in 2018. So that math is that she was too young. Moment.

The end of 2021, I was leaving an abusive relationship, unfortunately, and the small town that I lived in with my child’s father. They had already had LifeWise in place and were, you know, on the social media accounts looking for donations and word was getting spread around town. Again, it was a small town and so that was the first time I had seen it. I started to see, like the red bus and some you know insidious things that were sort of concerning to me, and, again, my daughter wasn’t in school yet, so I was leaving that abusive relationship.

I went half an hour towards more of a metro area to have more access to resources and to be closer to my mother, and it wasn’t anywhere over here yet at all, and so that’s when I sort of started looking and researching and through that is how I found the Reddit post and just sort of reached out to Zach. I don’t even remember exactly, but we connected and we’re like let’s get some more eyes and ears on this, like what are we doing here? And the more we looked into it, the more concerning things got and the more it’s grown.

0:06:24 – Douglas
Okay, and when did you form parents against lifewise?

0:06:29 – Molly
it was September of 2023 and was there?

0:06:35 – Douglas
was that just the impetus that you both shared that experience? Or there was other people that came forward and they are like, hey, let’s have a group. Or I mean, what was the, the just how did it just date?

0:06:50 – Molly
sure, zach, do you remember specifics?

0:06:52 – Zachary
I just remember deciding to start the facebook group well, you had it started before you reached out to me, specifically because there were small local ones. There was two local ones that I was in the finley group and then the other one, the northwest ohio one. Yeah, but I think we touched base in the Finley group and as soon as you I saw you just had a broad one, I jumped over and as soon as I did, he asked me to just help with it.

0:07:14 – Molly
So yeah, I was like, can you get on board? Because when I’m looking at the timeline and I’m talking to everyone, I’m noticing, like Zach, you know he’s, he’s’s been through it His daughter brought my name.

0:07:24 – Zachary
My name definitely comes up when you look into it. I mean, I’m. I’ve been loud. I feel like I have to be, you know, because people weren’t aware of this. Nobody had any idea that was their plan from the beginning. They they went into rural areas where, you know, there’s not a lot of people who are very Christian, and that’s where they started. They put their hooks in there and figured out how to do it before going to the bigger cities.

0:07:44 – Molly
Correct. Yeah, they made themselves get established in these places that were primarily white, primarily Christian, primarily conservative parts of Ohio, specifically because the pilot program started in Van Wert and that is the hometown of the founder, the CEO, joel Penton. So that is kind of the epicenter of what we’re talking about. The new headquarters is going to be in Hilliard, but Van Ward is sort of where it all started.

0:08:12 – Douglas
Yeah, I remember when I was in school many, many, many moons ago, they actually a lot of the rural schools had religious stuff on campus, even though it was unconstitutional. You know, people look the other way. Somebody was reminding me the other day that that this one school district in Hancock County they had a church bus that parked in the parking lot and the kids would come out and they would have stuff on the bus, have a like it was like modified at tables and things like that, and then the bus would drive away and people are shocked and I’m like, yeah, that’s what happens in rural Ohio.

0:08:51 – Zachary
Oh yeah, People just look the other way I mean that’s something we’ve seen specifically with LifeWise. I’ve seen them parking their bus over the weekends at the schools in two different school districts personally, so yeah.

0:09:04 – Molly
And they’re using classrooms in the public schools to host luncheons. They’re using I don’t actually even say classrooms, they’re using the facilities at public schools to host luncheons for volunteers and teachers. You know we’ve had, we have reports of them holding actual LifeWise classes at schools. But of course this is in places again where the populations are lower, it’s more rural. There’s not going to be any pushback. If there is, it’s going to be the minority and those people are scared so you’re not going to hear much about it.

0:09:37 – Douglas
Yeah, and to make things clear, there is still a prohibition against having religious classes in public schools. And also this, this law that they’re using the release time law specifically states that it can’t be done on campus, it can’t use resources, it can’t use the teachers. But you know, we have these sporadic reports that that’s what’s going on. They absolutely push every boundary they can.

0:10:03 – Zachary
I mean that that’s what’s going on. They absolutely push every boundary they can. I mean that seems very intentional to me. They like to push the limits every way they can.

0:10:12 – Molly
They will do whatever they want until they’re told not to, and then they will like think about it. Or they’ll backpedal and it’s only usually temporary, or it’s, you know, until another junction comes and you know. Whatever their pushing session is or whatever it’s creating a dynamic in communities where anyone who is not the vocal minority or the vocal majority, religious, religion-wise, is afraid and is being ostracized not just their children, but their families as well, even more so than before.

0:10:48 – Douglas
Yeah, and I know there was a recent bill that was introduced House Bill 445, that would require school districts to have a policy. Right now it’s up to the school districts if they have one. And one of the things you know know I come at it from a church-state separation angle. But there’s other, you know. I know there’s some people that don’t want to hassle religion or they think it’s a hassle, and there’s other reasons to be against it. Another reason to be against it is they have no requirements to do any background checks at all on anybody involved. Lifewise claims that they do them according to the law. They are not required to do any zach you take this one yeah, I mean we, we looked into their background checks.

0:11:35 – Zachary
I specifically did one myself and you know I definitely should not have passed, but I don’t know that I did either. But the thing is, even the background check company is called protect my ministries. It’s not a bci check. It’s not even remotely comparable to what teachers have to go through. Teachers get entered into a system called a rap back where as soon as they get a charge it alerts the system. Uh, it’s just, it doesn’t even compare. I to be honest, I don’t even think it’s a criminal background check. They call it a consumer report. Right there on the acknowledgement that you signed so checking their credit score, I guess I mean for real, that’s.

0:12:07 – Molly
That’s how it reads yeah, and and just to just to like give a little more detail to it is that when zach did go through their their process of doing the background check, um, you know how typically when you get one, it tells you like, do you want a copy sent to you? Um, there was no option for that, and see, he had to get the background check first in order well, this is what they’re saying supposedly in order to take the certification training, correct, zach? And so he was able to then take that training. So our assumption is that he passed the background check if he was given access to the training materials that he had to take the background check in order to get.

0:12:50 – Douglas
Right right.

0:12:52 – Zachary
I mean to be fair that was probably an automatic thing. I mean, to be fair, it was probably an automatic thing that once I did the background check, you know some bot probably just let me into the training, but nonetheless, the fact is they didn’t do a background check. I did the training and printed off a certificate. I can go buy a lifeline shirt and start showing up at schools if I wanted to.

0:13:12 – Douglas
Absolutely that’s crazy, yeah, and in this day and age of random school shootings and and abuse, child abuse in the hands of teachers and administrators, and they’re letting them take these kids off campus. It’s just mind-boggling.

0:13:29 – Molly
It’s horrifying. And just to clarify, zach was the team member who did submit himself to the background check, but that was because he, as a younger man, had some run-ins with the law and nothing horrible by any means but he should not have in any reality passed the background check that a teacher would have in order to get access to public school children.

0:13:54 – Voice Over
For more information about the topics in this episode, including links used, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanistshow at glasscityhumanistshow.

0:14:09 – Douglas
Yeah, and then the other thing that really should raise a red flag to any parent is that the school district isn’t responsible for anything. Once they get approved, all they have to do is check attendance. That’s all they’re required to do, that’s a good point to bring up.

0:14:26 – Molly
So the thing we found out about the attendance is that the schools are supposed to be tracking the attendance and they’re not. We’re finding out that we’re getting a lot of back and forth, like the schools will say, well, lifewise has that information and then LifeWise is like it’s up to the schools to have that information and there’s no one tracking the attendance.

0:14:48 – Zachary
This is the answers we’re getting with public records requests. Just to be clear.

0:14:50 – Molly
I mean this is not hearsay. This is us going and specifically asking places where we know it is implemented and saying we want the attendance records that you have to be keeping and they will not give them, they cannot provide them and I don’t think they have them them.

0:15:03 – Douglas
Yeah, that’s one of the requests I made with the finley city school district was just enrollment, that’s all I was asking. It was how many kids? And they’ve blown me off for two years now. Nothing, no acknowledgement, no denial, nothing we run into that a lot.

0:15:18 – Zachary
Zach, I know especially, has run into that, just full-on silence yeah, I mean, I didn’t just have the FFRF, I also had the Ohio ACLU on them when she was in third grade. The year after that, after you know, the other organization didn’t do as much as I was hoping they would I got a hold of Ohio ACLU and you know it’s yeah, it’s exactly what it is. It’s a lot of silence and it’s a lot of well, that’s not true and that’s the end of it, unfortunately.

0:15:44 – Molly
And so there’s no one to represent the children, and that’s kind of where we come in. Minor children can only be represented by their parents, and right now we’re the only voice out there as a collective that says, hey, do you know this is going on, do you have a problem with it? And giving the full information.

0:16:03 – Zachary
It’s something you mentioned earlier and I wanted to say. The liability of any violation falls to the school, and I think that’s a big point that schools need to be aware of. They actually are the ones who are held liable for any kind of violation that occurs, much less the fact that LifeWise isn’t gonna take the responsibility when it comes to these kids either. They’re gonna do what they can to push it off on the schools, I assume.

0:16:23 – Molly
The school let them do it. That’s what it’s going to come down to is, well, the school let us come in and we were trying to do a good thing and we were trying to do this, and it’s going to cost the school money in the end of the day. But the permissions not only does it have that, it has a disclaimer that is very concerning, and we’ll give you a copy of one of these, an example, but it also says very clearly that it’s non-denominational, and I think that’s something that we really need to touch on here, because it is not non-denominational. They’re getting a lot of spread in Christian communities and, you know, well-meaning people are falling victim because they think that it’s just innocent Bible school, like that used to happen in the old days, like old-fashioned innocent Bible school, and that is not what this is.

They’re getting their curriculum from the Gospel Project, which is published by Lifeway, that’s the publishing house for the Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t think we need to go over the Southern Baptist Convention, but basically it’s bad times, bad news, hateful, hateful rhetoric, and so that’s the sort of things that they’re passing on to the kids. We have a specific document that we, you know, that really illustrates this point that says it’s called how to Answer Difficult Questions from Students. Zach, that’s correct, right.

0:17:45 – Zachary
Yeah, I have it pulled up.

0:17:47 – Molly
Yeah, and it’s got you know. There’s a lot of concerning parts to it, to be honest with you, but, zach, will you point out a couple of them that I think people need to be aware of? And again, this is not a document that’s gonna be provided to a parent. It’s not. It may not even be a document that’s going to be provided to a school. It is a document that’s going to be provided to a volunteer from LifeWise or to a teacher for LifeWise about how to handle sensitive subjects. If a student should bring up a sensitive subject, zach, do you have it that you can read? Yeah?

0:18:16 – Zachary
I’ve got it pulled up here. I suppose the first thing that pops out is the family questions. How can I honor my parents, step-parents, grandparents, live-ins who do not follow God? We can’t expect people who don’t love God to follow him, but we should still be respectful toward them. When faced with a choice to obey God or our parents, we should always obey God first. I mean, that’s pretty concerning to me. My mom’s boyfriend lives with us. Is that a sin? My parents are divorced. Did they break God’s rules? I mean, these are the kinds of questions. And then we have gender identity, sex questions. What would God think if I changed my gender? What does the Bible say about same-sex relationships? I mean, you know what these answers are.

0:19:02 – Molly
Yeah, I mean it’s two pages of this, three pages of this, yeah this, yeah, and if you, you know, if you don’t know what those answers are, the sum of it is is that, yes, all of those things are a sin. Um, your family’s living in sin and the price that you pay for sin is going to hell. Um, I find some of the things especially disturbing. As someone who, like I said when I first heard of LifeWise, was escaping an abusive relationship and that kind of rhetoric is, I can’t explain to you how dangerous it is to tell a young girl that getting a divorce or that having a new boyfriend or a new man in her life is something to be ashamed of or that is a sin. That only reinforces the issues that we have with, you know, abused people staying in toxic and abusive relationships, and faith is a big reason why a lot, a lot of times that happens because it’s against their doctrine for them to leave and no matter what, and that’s, you know, that’s dangerous. That’s how we end up with dead women.

0:20:03 – Douglas
Yeah, and that was the other red flag I know I had mentioned about the religious aspect of it was the fact that it only follows a certain their brand of Christianity and it excludes Jewish people, it excludes Catholicism, it excludes Jehovah Witnesses. It’s very, very exclusive. It excludes a lot.

0:20:27 – Zachary
It’s evangelical. I mean, just call it what it is it’s an evangelical doctrine.

0:20:32 – Molly
It is 100 percent. I mean their, their entire motto, their entire mission, business model, whatever you want to call it is to reach unchurched children in public schools. Children in public schools. So I mean just by definition, I mean anyone who sort of knows kind of what we’re dealing with with Christian nationalism, who is keeping up with sort of the things that are concerning about homegrown terrorists, things like that. I mean these are things that are very scary. And when they send a permission slip home that just says this is non-denominational character building Bible class.

0:21:10 – Zachary
Character education is they love to lean on that.

0:21:13 – Molly
Character education, character education, and you know it’s the most concern, not the most concerning part. I just keep saying that because all the parts are so concerning. But they are targeting places like, like we said, rural. Some of these places are lower income, some of these places have fewer resources, things like that, and so they’re already entering a place where things like that are going to be more accepted, if that makes sense, and so it’s normal and it’s reinforcing these damaging ideas.

0:21:45 – Douglas
Yeah, I got introduced to Joel Penton because I was doing some research on his fake character, building motivational speeches that he does where he talks a school and to bring him in and they have a mandatory assembly where he speaks about building character and obeying your parents and blah, blah, blah. And then at the end he says, hey, if you like this, here’s another part. Tonight at a local church or it might be in the building that they just had that assembly.

0:22:19 – Molly
And then that’s when he prophetizes to him Absolutely Well, at least my understanding, and Zach absolutely interrupt if, if I’m wrong or if you, you know, interrupt me anyway. But, um, he, basically, he goes and he, he, he structured, his, structures it as a motivational speech, okay, and I, I think what you’re speaking of is his.

stand your ground, right or stand for truth stand for truth is the name of the ink. Ok, that’s what they’re nine nine say, but it all started sort of with this book that he wrote, and I don’t know if he was. I don’t know what came first, the book or the motivational speaking Zach do you know? I don’t know. But so in 2010, he wrote a book called Stand your Ground. I happen to have it. I bought it two times used. You didn’t get any money from me, and so the interesting thing about Stand your Ground is that it’s it’s.

I haven’t noticed very. I’ve skimmed it. I’ve read most of it, not all of it, so, admittedly, it could be in here, I don’t know, but it does not say anything specifically very much about religion. So what he’s doing is he’s towing the line with these children in these assemblies, right up to the edge, and he’s saying stand your ground, keep your convictions. You know what matters to you is important, things like that. Okay, which is awesome when it’s taken out of context. When you start to add religion into it and, like the authoritative issues we have within you, know religious organizations and churches, then then you can sort of see what, what the real message is. And I think the other interesting thing about this book is we have it on good authority, like very good authority someone who graduated school with Joel that this is entirely fabricated authority.

Someone who graduated school with Joel that this is entirely fabricated. That the entire premise of the book is that he had to stand his ground about Jesus, about his faith, and that the entire school, even his friends, turned their back on him and it was the worst moment of his life and he was ostracized and all of this. But then, of course, at the end, this, this paid off and this is his dream, you know, and his dream come true and he stood his ground and that’s what made him a man and just, you know these sort of things. Um, but there’s so much detail in this book. Um, I know a couple people that have read it and the person who went to school with him who said there’s no way that these things could have happened and no one know about it. Like it, the way he writes it is that like it’s the whole school, like a footloose situation, you know, but like the whole, like the whole school, the whole town.

0:24:56 – Douglas
Everyone knows about this fan were yes it was a fan were really. Yes, I that. To me that says that’s made up right there.

0:25:05 – Molly
Yeah right exactly exactly, and that’s why we’re all like what? And? And the people that I’ve talked to, who went to school with them or what have you or their, their kids, went to school with them? They’re like they’ve never heard of that. That that should be in fiction. But it is an autobiographical book. That’s what it’s, what’s touted at and you see, you see, the timeline is very funny too, because you’ve got 2010,.

He’s motivational, speaking, grifting schools, making money, got a book to sell too, doesn’t he? 2011,. He writes another book because he’s got to keep going. This one’s called Seven Lies. Almost Every Teen Believes it was written in 2011. Okay, so that’s a year. That’s wild.

And this one is very religious. It is so religious it’s insane. This is something that you would almost have to go. We have snippets of it we can share with you and you can share with your audience. But this is almost something that you would have to read to get the big picture of. But, but really it’s. It’s brainwashing for children. It’s a teen guide for brainwashing for evangelical Christians. And you see, you have this in 2011,. You see him continue. You know he’s a full-time minister. He doesn’t like to say that or advertise that, but for 13 years. He was a full-time minister in that gap and then, come 2023, I don’t have a copy of it, unfortunately 2023 in May he’s publishing a book called During School Hours and it is about LifeWise Academy and how he’s implemented that into you know, the schools and the process.

0:26:46 – Zachary
And how you can do. You know the schools and the process and how you can do.

0:26:49 – Molly
You know yeah how he?

0:26:50 – Douglas
borrowed it from his sister. I believe it was.

0:26:53 – Zachary
His sister was on the board of the church that was doing it yeah well, there’s a whole bunch of details there that seemed to be a little foggy and a little shady, but I don’t want to get too far into him because we’re not entirely sure. But yeah, I mean there was a program in van worth that he kind of went in there and said how can we do this everywhere? The quote out of his book is I need to mcdonald’s this thing or something to that effect. Uh, which it’s ironic, that that’s the colors they chose as well. I mean, they’re very much mcdonald’s colors that they’re using. He’s playing, playing that manipulative, you know game.

0:27:29 – Douglas
Hello, this is Douglas, host of the Glass City Humanist, inviting you to listen to selected segments of the Glass City Humanist on Toledo Community Radio Station, WAKT 106.1 FM, Tuesdays at 7pm Eastern Time. If you can’t listen to us on the radio, you can live stream us on ToledoRadioorg or visit our On WAKT page on our website glasscityhumanistshow for past episodes let’s go to the beginning.

0:28:18 – Molly
First. They garner 50 signatures from within your community. We tested that theory and turns out they don’t care where those signatures come from, they don’t care about what the email says, they don’t care what the email is, they don’t care about the name, they don’t care about any of that. What they, they don’t care what the email is, they don’t care about the name, they don’t care about any of that. What they’re going to do is they’re going to keep sending you emails when you sign their petition that say thanks for signing our petition. So, and we went and checked and there’s. You know, if you, if you join our Facebook group or you know we’ll we can provide you some screenshots, doug, but basically it’ll show you the count.

If you need 50 signatures, there would be, like you know, 50 of them or 45. And then, when we would do this test, there would be 56. There would be one more. There would be one more Like. So it was actively keeping count of just every email that got plugged into the petition. You know the website. And then again, the emails were getting multiple, didn’t we use the same email twice?

0:29:10 – Zachary
Yep, yep. I used the same email to sign two different lists and it didn’t stop it. Or red flag, it doesn’t matter.

0:29:16 – Molly
Two different lists in two different communities that Zach has nothing to do with, just to be clear. So they say that these are communities of interested people within your community. No, they could be signatures from anywhere. This could be one person with access to 50 emails. This could be a church leader with his roster.

0:29:35 – Zachary
This could be they also don’t share it. I mean, that’s the other thing. I don’t believe that they share this list with anybody.

0:29:41 – Molly
No no.

0:29:44 – Douglas
No, they just go into the district and they say, hey, everybody wants it, absolutely. No, they just, they just go into the district and they say hey, everybody wants it. Here’s that. Here’s that we had 50, however, 150 signatures.

0:29:53 – Zachary
Everybody wants it, it’s the other thing too they start at 50 and then it becomes we need 100.

0:30:04 – Molly
You know they just keep upping it. So and then eventually the from signatures. That goes from signatures to donations, because this is structured like an MLM, you know it’s, it’s everyone at the bottom is begging for money, looking for donations from the community, doing, you know, fundraising, selling merch. I mean, they’ve got, they got their own coffee brand, they have T-shirts and polos and water bottles and everything you can think of, and you know so there’s a lot of, a lot of a lot of money grabbing going on at, like, the community levels. And then you see them they’re paying not very much, by the way. They’re, uh, they’re paid employees because they’re they’re. Isn’t there usually at least one paid employee in a community sack?

0:30:42 – Zachary
yeah, yeah, the lead teacher. I think some of the teachers as well. It it just depends, yeah.

0:30:48 – Molly
Yeah, or like there might be a director. Depends on like the community is or how many schools are in the school district.

0:30:55 – Zachary
Yeah yeah, because they’ve got the program directors and then they have like a little board and stuff. I mean that’s the thing. There’s like seven steps, eight steps. They have them all broke down in PDFs, what you can do and how you can email the schools and how you can get more interest in your community, and it’s all just.

0:31:17 – Molly
It’s all just templates. I mean, it really is. It’s just templates of send this out to everybody. It’s kind of crazy it is, and you know, and you pay them so much, isn’t it, zach? You have to have. You either have to keep your numbers up, you, you have to have. You either have to keep your numbers up. You have to keep your numbers up, and then, like, you have to have so much money to start the program and if you don’t, if you aren’t successful, that money gets forfeited to LifeWise program.

0:31:41 – Zachary
And then you also don’t have the startup money. Yep.

0:31:42 – Douglas
Yep, Absolutely, yeah. And then it’s like I read somewhere it was like 20 or 30 dollars a kid for liability insurance yeah, and that was something I didn’t we didn’t see till later on.

0:31:55 – Molly
Zach, would you agree with that, like that wasn’t? I didn’t see a mention of that until later and I almost wonder if that was an afterthought sort of thing yeah, I’m not sure the communities are the ones that are doing most of the small town, small time funding, fundraising, um.

But I think the other thing that is important to discuss about lifewise is the affiliations they have and who’s donating to them directly. Um, they’ve got some very upsetting people that they’re affiliated with, that have spoken about them, who have said this is awesome, that have promoted them on their programs PacMobile so we know what that is. That’s the right-wing extremist company. Sure, you can do your own research. They’ve got um, we we found at least two um promotions from project 25 that have said life-wise is where it’s at. You need to get this in your community. It’s the best thing since sliced bread. You know so. And and project 25, we don’t have the time to go and do that here, but you can do your own research. It is terrifying. Uh, if you you know, doug, you probably know more about that than I do, in all honesty, but for them to be affiliated with that in any way, shape or form and then also affiliated with our children is something that keeps me up at night.

0:33:19 – Douglas
Well, didn’t, was it in? I don’t know if you probably didn’t tell me before, but didn’t somebody read in his book that his goal is to tear down the public school system, or was that something he said in a podcast or something I know he’s been quoted as saying that his mission is to tear down. Joel Penton’s mission is to tear down the public school system and reconstitute it as a Christian school.

0:33:50 – Zachary
He said things to that effect in podcasts. For sure that question has been brought up in podcasts, you know, to that effect. I don’t know the exact quote but, yeah, it’s also interesting that his kids are all homeschooled, you know yeah of course our public schools aren’t good enough for joel, right.

0:34:04 – Douglas
Right, because it’s a cesspool, or let’s see? No, it’s his mission field, that’s what he calls it. That’s because it’s a cesspool, or let’s see?

0:34:08 – Zachary
no, it’s his mission field, that’s what he calls it, and I think that’s the point that needs to be made is how this is so much different than every other RTRI program up until then. These other programs have been running for years without trying to convert the children. That’s the big difference here, and I think that point needs to be made. They stand behind these Supreme Court cases and they only stand behind half of them. They only point out the little bits and snippets that work for them. There’s plenty of other things you can pull out of this Supreme Court case law, because that’s all it is that they’re working from. It’s a lot of weeds once you start getting into it lot of weeds once you start getting into it.

0:34:50 – Douglas
Yeah, when uh representative click uh introduced 445 in his proponent testimony, he claimed that it was a first amendment issue about religious freedom and it’s like that is total poppycock. It is not. If a school district doesn’t want to have lifewise, that should be up to the school district and that doesn’t violate anybody’s religious freedom. It really doesn’t.

0:35:09 – Molly
No, because these other programs were traditionally meant for, like minority faiths and for public school children who didn’t have the resources or the financial resources specifically to be afforded a private religious education, which used to be the only option in this country. You had to pay for a private religious education if you wanted that for your child. That is no longer the case, especially in Ohio. Now we’re up against vouchers, we’re up against charter schools, we’re up against all kinds of things that are an alternative to public school. So if your day-to-day, if your religion is so important that you need your child to have it during their day to day, during the school week, then there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be able to send them to a school without any financial burden on yourself or your family and therefore it shouldn’t be in our public schools.

0:36:03 – Douglas
Now the only, the only counter I would have to that is that many of the areas, the rural areas of Ohio, do not have a private school, and that’s one of the knocks about this so-called universal voucher system that we have in Ohio now is it doesn’t help kids really that much in rural communities.

0:36:24 – Molly
No, and we’d have to check. That’s something that I’ve delved into a little bit on the sides here and there, as it concerns with LifeWise, but I think there’s also like a transportation budget built into that, though. So there’s money that they’re getting to be able to get their kids in rural areas to a private school in a less rural area. So, again, if it’s that important, if it’s something that is so important to your family that your child can’t go without it until a weekend or an afterschool or before school situation, I don’t even feel like it falls into that category, though I mean, that’s the other thing.

0:37:00 – Zachary
I don’t feel like this program is designed for people who want the religious upbringing for their children. I mean, that’s not what it’s designed for. It’s apples to oranges when you, you know, compare it to that.

0:37:11 – Molly
It is it is true, because Parents Against LifeWise, we’ve said from day one, like we are not anti-RTRI. That’s the, that’s the 19,. What is it? 52 Supreme Court decision. The RTRI is religious release time, instruction, and we’re not against that. Okay, because it has existed for years and years with no issues. Because these other religions, the minority ones, they aren’t hinged on proselytizing, they aren’t. There is no mission. They’re not sending the kids back to school with treats and prizes and stories and enticements. You know these kids are, you know, leaving early at the end of the day to go to temple and nobody else cares. You know what I mean. Like, this is just, it’s never been an ordeal before and now it’s become one. It’s creating these imaginary hierarchies within the elementary schools. It has kids crying and not being able to sleep at night because they’re worried about going to hell. You know parents upset because they can’t say anything at the school, because they’re outnumbered. I mean, it’s just, it’s mess after mess after mess.

0:38:15 – Douglas
And then you have their fake research that says kids do better when they attend Bible class that they paid for yeah, paid for study.

0:38:25 – Molly
It’s interesting. It’s interesting that they paid for yeah, paid for study, paid for and it’s interesting.

0:38:26 – Zachary
It’s interesting if you start digging into the laws a little bit. My opinion is, the reason they have that is because one of the things they stand behind in the law is that the school can push a program like this. If there’s a secular benefit Like that’s something that you know they allow more. What’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t know they allow more. What’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t know. They allow more leeway, if you can say there’s secular benefit to this like.

0:38:53 – Molly
Our attendance is going up, our bullying is reduced, our um incidents they call it. What do they call it? Sometimes they call them like incidences or um situations. There’s always a code word and basically it’s for kids getting in trouble. You know it’s, it’s disciplinary action stuff, and so they’re saying that there’s less of this, less of that. But that’s not what we’re hearing, that’s not what parents are coming and saying to us, that’s not what the testimony says, that’s not the experience on the ground. It’s. It’s what they want people to think is happening and what they’re paying for people to think is happening.

0:39:29 – Douglas
All right and, as I said, you know you have this group Parents Against LifeWise. What specific things is your group doing at this time?

0:39:40 – Zachary
I mean, I think our biggest thing is spreading awareness and information. That’s kind of always been the main tenant and goal as far as me and Molly. You know, we have definitely worked with different groups like the ACLU and Freedom from Religion.

0:39:55 – Molly
Honestly Ohio Education.

0:39:59 – Zachary
Yep, I mean we’re collecting testimony from parents and really just trying to be there as a support system, because when I started dealing with there was none, there was no information about this program. You know I had nowhere to turn, no one to talk to, and we just kind of want to be there and be that for other parents. Help raise awareness and get people to know. I mean, you know, that’s our thing, I guess.

0:40:21 – Douglas
Yeah, I think that’s important, that there be counter counters to the people that want to do this and that you stick up for your kids and other people’s kids and the fact, the fact that they exclude all these other religions. There’s over 4000 world religions in this world. You know they can’t have Bible class for all of those religions. There’s just no possible way. So they’re gonna have to pick and choose, and they can’t because that’s a First Amendment violation if they pick and choose.

0:40:53 – Zachary
And I think another really valid point to bring up is when they claim that this is character education for this class, that we don’t have a character education curriculum for our children, I mean that there is the discrimination. Our kids aren’t being instructed. This curriculum like. That group of kids is you know well.

0:41:12 – Douglas
In fact, during, during I think it was either reagan or bush they actually got rid of that stuff because it was liberal. You were indoctrinating kids on liberalism, so they got rid of it.

0:41:24 – Zachary
They demonized it like they did crt right and they stopped it any, any other mention of sel, social emotional learning. You know that these people, they would be screaming about it because it’s indoctrination, but this is the hypocrisy that they’re also using that system.

0:41:42 – Molly
Yeah, they ironically have internal like we’ve seen documents that they’ve provided that basically say this is how-.

0:41:50 – Zachary
They mimic the Ohio standards, to be honest with you, because you can pull the Ohio SEL standards up and it is almost verbatim. Oh, our program does this almost exactly as the Ohio standards state.

0:42:02 – Molly
And at one time they had even said they had actually said that we use SEL policies, procedures, whatever. They had said that and it was causing so much concern and controversy for their organization that they had. They were like we need to get rid of this. So it’s just deceitful all the way around. All the way around. It’s just we keep finding more deceitful things. And Zach brought up a really good point. Not only are our kids not getting the SEL or, like you know, the same quality education, but we have reports of no new instruction time, like no new instruction classes, where basically, if the majority or I don’t even know if it’s a majority but the kids that go, they go to LifeWise and the kids that stay instead of actually doing coursework or being taught or you know, doing what they should do.

They do busy work where there’s no new instruction. That’s what they mean, so that the LifeWise kids aren’t missing anything, even though it is very clear in the ORC and in the Supreme Court decision that those kids, their parents, whoever, are responsible for the work that they miss when they go off school property to do that’s the accommodation I mean.

0:43:17 – Zachary
that’s part of the school endorsement is that they’re accommodating this by taking that time away from our children as well.

0:43:24 – Douglas
Or they’re doing it like Anthony Wayne schools. They’re going to do it during lunch and recess.

0:43:36 – Molly
Yeah, yeah, that’s to overcome that obstacle, as they called it. Yeah Well, and to that point, I think it’s important to note that that is their second option, that is their backup plan. That is their second option, that is their backup plan. They do not want to come to your district and be there during school and recess.

0:43:47 – Zachary
They fight that really hard.

0:43:49 – Molly
Tooth and nail. At some points they’ve even said well, we’ll leave. You know they’ve told districts well, we’ll leave if you don’t accommodate. You know us. But what these kids are leaving during is you know what is? I would argue with this term, but considered non-core curriculum. I would argue with this term, but considered non-core curriculum. So their specials classes, or that’s what those called in some areas, which is PE, music, art, library time, tech, things like that. These are on rotation a lot of schools, and so they will rotate, missing one of these important classes or instructions in order to go. And the children that aren’t opting in or whose parents won’t opt them in, um, you know, they’re, they’re what? Not not getting these things, not going to these?

0:44:32 – Zachary
because, because the specials are twice a week, like the kids that don’t go get that special twice a week, it’s not like the other kids are missing the class entirely. They go one week and my daughter goes two days a week. She has our class twice a week now but they don’t do anything new. Like she was saying, no new instruction during that second day, while all the other kids are at LifeWise.

0:44:53 – Molly
No, we have teachers who have said, basically like look, think about it, how would we do that? How would we keep on track of a curriculum and of a lesson plan when there’s all this staggering? How would we know where to stop and start and who knows what and who remembers what? There’s no way to keep track of that. When you’ve got half or more of the class that’s missing so much and the other half that has kept learning, Then you’re either going back over things the other kids have learned which we all know what happens to bored kids but you know. So you’ve got the other half of the class who has, you know, no idea what’s going on. It’s all new to them, you know. So it just creates this weird scheduling disparity that the teachers are, honestly, they’re having a really hard time dealing with and I would say, across the board we’ve heard nothing but teachers say that this is bad. It’s bad in practice, it’s bad every day. It’s bad in practice. It’s bad every day.

0:45:45 – Douglas
It’s bad, yeah, and I think one of the things that can help immensely is if we could find some teachers that will go on the record about some of this stuff, because I know a lot of them won’t.

0:45:55 – Zachary
Yeah, that’s the problem.

0:45:56 – Molly
Yeah, they’re scared to lose their jobs. Right, and with good reason in some areas. In other areas maybe not, but we can understand concerned because in a lo places this is being push. Who maybe leads the PTA, o even, or by a church leade, who is the authority on t? You know authority on these such things, you know the consequences for them are too big is what we’re finding so far. But again, we’re a little behind, but we’re not that behind. They are spreading out from the pilot program in Van Wert like a disease just spreading out from Ohio, and so we’re getting more reports. They’ve they’re getting more opportunities to mess up, if that makes any sense, and so we’re. We’re bound to hear more and we’re bound to they’re. They’re in. Are they in Toledo public schools or Columbus, columbus City schools? They’re going to areas, because it’s very obvious to me anyway that they’ve got all of Ohio at this point, I mean, for the most part, they’ve got almost all of Ohio.

0:47:01 – Zachary
Well, they, it’s this it’s very obvious to me anyway that they’ve got all of ohio at this point. I mean, for the most part they’ve got almost all of ohio well they.

0:47:07 – Molly
It’s this, it’s to me. This is what I think, zach. You tell me if you think I’m right, but it’s rural christian white communities, as we discussed.

0:47:14 – Zachary
They’ve definitely made their mark in the big cities as well.

0:47:16 – Molly
At this point, then they go in to the metro area which, again, historically, historically, has some poverty issues maybe, or resources that are lower, or their education is overwhelmed by the amount of students there’s some issue, right. So they go directly there, they get their foothold in there and then, like in Ohio right now, we’re seeing it in the suburbs and that’s where they’re getting the most pushback, because those people have the time and the money and the resources to look into what is exactly going on. And that is not the case for people who are struggling that maybe live in a more rural area. And don’t get me wrong, we’re not stereotyping. We know that these are not always the case, that this is not always. You know that people in rural areas are Christian, white or low income, and we know that the same is true for metro areas.

But, historically speaking, that is what they’re doing, is they’re preying on these areas that are saying, oh, you’re going to come in here and you’re going to offer character education to these children who are struggling for free. Yes, we’ll do it, we’ll do anything you want to do if you say it’s going to help because we’re struggling that hard. That’s what they’re doing. And so now in Ohio specifically, and in Ohio specifically, and in Ohio we keep talking about Ohio. It’s national. Okay, it’s in how many states?

0:48:28 – Zachary
by now, oh, 20, something 20 now, I think on the. I could have that number wrong, but they just had their state of the ministry addressed yesterday and I want to say it was 20. Yeah, cause, he said he said it’ll be 25 by 2025.

0:48:43 – Molly
Yeah, so there, you know, it’s spreading outward. But but Ohio is a really good micro examination of how they’re doing things because, like I said, you know in some ways all the states, we know that people in general are all the same, so there’s a lot of consistencies. And so in Ohio we’ve, we’ve seen it, we’re seeing it happen in real life. They’ve had years to do it and now that they’re established they’re doing it even faster in other states. So again, rural Christian first go into the metro, the suburbs and the more affluent neighborhoods that are more diverse and things like that. Those are the last places and that’s where they see the most opposition, but that’s the last place. And by that time, a lot of times we’re seeing, you know, there’s been a House bill of some sort that’s been passed to force them to have an RTI policy, an RTRI policy, like we talked about with HB 445. Indiana already has one.

0:49:37 – Zachary
They just passed it. I think, talking about their spread, this is probably a good time to bring up the website respectpublicschoolscom. There’s an interactive map on there that shows, I mean, the growth they’ve had just in the past two, three months has been huge. But you can go on to respectpublicschoolscom and get an interactive map and see what stage they’re at in your city and that’s nationwide.

0:50:01 – Molly
Nationwide. You can type in your school district name. That’s what you need to know is whatever school district you’re concerned about, um you know which, sometimes our school districts don’t always match the name of the cities we live in. So find out that information accurately and go in there and the map will show you um what level. Remember how? We remember we spoke about how there’s 10 steps for them to get implemented into the district. It’ll show you what step that your school district is currently on.

0:50:30 – Douglas
Well, zach and Molly, it was really great to talk to you today about this important issue. This is a very, very important issue that people need to take heed. They need to pay attention and if they have kids in school, they need to keep up on it, because you know they’re manipulating everything that they can. They’re being as sneaky about it as they can. If people want to get involved with Parents Against LifeWise, how do they get in touch with you?

0:51:01 – Zachary
They can email us at parentsagainstlifewise at Gmail or just get on the Facebook group. That’s really the best way. Search Parents Against LifeWise on Facebook. It’s probably going to be the best way. We’re working on a website. It’s not live yet, but we’re working on that, so hopefully we’ll have that up and running soon.

0:51:19 – Molly
That’s going to have a ton, a ton of useful information on it on how to mount your own fight. If you’re looking to fight, on just the history of it, on where they’re headed, maybe there’s just going to be a lot of information and, again, you can always join our community.

0:51:33 – Douglas
We have both a public page on Facebook and a private group, and there’s a lot of information within the private group and a lot of supportive people there that may be in your area and I’ll be looking to find other people that want to, you know, provide an opposition to this yeah, I just got at it today and I noticed there were several people that I personally know that I did not know was in that group. So we’ve grown a lot really quick.

0:51:57 – Zachary
I’m glad to see it like I said, I’ve been talking about this and trying to help people for three years now and this is the most momentum that I’ve seen by a long shot.

0:52:05 – Molly
Yeah, yeah, and we’re not. You know, like I said, we’re not anti-religion by any means. I wouldn’t say that we support RTRI laws, because to us, school day is precious. Those minutes are precious. There’s no time for any religion in a public school day, but for minority faiths, for people who need it, special circumstances, of course, absolutely. We’re supportive of that, of a diversity of any sort, and we always make a point to say that we’re not anti-religion at all.

Our movement is not about religion bashing. It’s not about being an atheist or an agnostic or anything like that. We have lots of clergy members, we have religious leaders within the group, we have, you know, housewives and scientists and teachers and everything you can think of, and we want everyone to know, because we said, even though our group is called Parents Against LifeWise parents is just a word we use because of the strength that it contains Anyone is welcome, anyone who pays taxes, anyone who’s a member of the community, anyone who cares about what’s going on in their school, that they, you know, contribute to, that their children go to or that their grandchildren go to. They need to know what’s going on.

0:53:14 – Douglas
All right, thanks. Thank you very much, zach and Molly. I really appreciate it.

0:53:18 – Zachary
Yeah, thanks for having us. I appreciate it.

0:53:20 – Molly
Yeah, thanks, we appreciate you.

0:53:24 – Voice Over
Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanistshow. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the secular humanists of Western Lake Erie. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie Choli can be reached at humanistswleorg. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Berger and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam, composed using the Amplify Studio. See you next time.

Transcript is machine generated, lightly edited, and approximate to what was recorded. If you would like perfect transcripts, please donate to the show.

Credits

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.

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