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Business & Economy

Hilliard-based LifeWise suing Indiana man who allegedly posted curriculum online

Students file off a small, branded bus with "LifeWise Academy" written on the side.
LifeWise Academy
Students disembark from a LifeWise Academy bus.

A Hilliard-based nonprofit that offers religious instruction to elementary students during school hours is suing the leader of a parent’s opposition group for copyright infringement.

LifeWise, Inc., busses 1st- through 5th-grade public students to churches or off-campus locations to learn about the Bible, usually once a week during students' recess and lunch periods or when they would have classes like art, music and gym. The program started in two rural Ohio schools in 2019 and has expanded to more than 500 schools in 23 states.

The organization’s founder, Joel Penton, is a former Ohio State defensive lineman and resident of Hilliard.

LifeWise is suing Zachary Parrish of Fort Wayne, Ind., a co-founder of the group Parents Against LifeWise, for copyright infringement.

A legal complaint filed last week in the Northern District of Indiana federal court alleges that Parrish posed as a LifeWise volunteer to get access to the organization’s documents. The curriculum is only available to paid employees of LifeWise with login credentials.

LifeWise claims Parrish then posted LifeWise’s documents and its copyrighted curriculum on the Parents Against LifeWise website. When LifeWise asked Parrish to remove the curriculum, he refused, allegedly sending a meme stating, “it’s called fair use (expletive).”

Parent Against LifeWise co-founder Molly Gaines of New Lebanon, Ohio, speaking on behalf of the organization and Parrish, said parents deserve to see the curriculum. She believes posting it online was fair use because Parents Against LifeWise was not making any money off of it.

“We are not trying to replicate their curriculum. It is for journalistic purposes. It's for review. It's for the parents to as public school parents have every right to see every single thing that's in a curriculum,” Gaines said.

Gaines said they obtained the information legally and that Parrish was not “posing” as a volunteer. She said he wanted to see if he could pass LifeWise’s background check and become a teacher despite having a history of alcohol and substance abuse.

When he cleared the background check, “they basically sent us those passwords and, that information to go and access the curriculum,” Gaines said.

She said at the time, anyone could have gone through the volunteer teacher sign-up and would have been given the same information.

LifeWise in its legal filings and in a written statement claims sharing the curriculum is not fair use.

“Posting the entire curriculum is not ‘fair use,’ and we are confident that the judge will agree. We are hoping to settle this dispute swiftly,” the statement reads.

In court documents, LifeWise writes that its copyrights were registered under the organization’s former name, Stand for Truth, Inc., in July 2021.

LifeWise has a copyright agreement with Lifeway Christian Resources based on Lifeway’s copyrighted Sunday school curriculum, called the Gospel Project.

LifeWise founder Penton has said that LifeWise’s lesson plans cover the Bible from Genesis to Revelations over the course of five years. The lessons are meant to focus on “head, heart, and hands,” meaning the content of the story, how it connects to the larger Gospel message, and how that can transform a person’s character.

LifeWise offers a sample curriculum on its website. But Gaines claims that version is “very cherry-picked” and watered down from the full curriculum students learn during the program.

She argues the lessons are very conservative and potentially harmful.

“Many of the topics covered in this curriculum are psychologically damaging and inappropriate for students of such a young age,” reads a blub on Parents Against LifeWise’s curriculum page. “Other discussions directly contradict the standard and accepted history as well as the science being taught to these students in school.”

The page, which used to display more details on the curriculum, now has a message reading, “LifeWise has demanded WordPress take all this curriculum down. We intend to counter their claim and fight this in court.”

Gaines said Parents Against Lifewise and Parrish have not get gotten legal counsel. She said the lawsuit is “not about winning or losing.”

“If this is what needed to happen to draw attention to what (LifeWise is) trying to do – the first step in dismantling the public education system – then so be it. They can sue us. It’ll be worth it for everyone to find out what they’re doing,” Gaines said.

LifeWise is asking a judge to order Parrish to destroy his copy of the curriculum and to require him to pay up to $150,000 in damages.

Business & Economy ReligionEducationHilliard
Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.