October 2023 Church & State Magazine - October 2023

Texas clergy sign letter opposing chaplains in public schools


More than 100 professional chaplains have signed a letter urging Texas public schools to refrain from hiring chaplains.

The letter, dated Aug. 22, came in response to the Texas Legislature’s passage of a bill earlier this year that will allow school districts to use chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs for students.”

The chaplains assert that the program is flawed because chaplains are not a suitable replacement for trained counselors in schools. The letter also notes that the law contains no language that bars the chaplains from proselytizing while in the schools.

“Because of our training and experience, we know that chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools, and we urge you to reject this flawed policy option: It is harmful to our public schools and the students and families they serve,” reads the letter.

Under the terms of the law, SB 763, the school chaplains don’t have to meet any professional standards. Anyone who can pass a background check can assume the title of “chaplain.”

The professional chaplains say this will create problems. They note that professional chaplains are often required to have graduate degrees and must often be certified by oversight boards.

The letter also points out that while chaplains make sense in some circumstances, such military installations, hospitals or prisons where men and women are kept away from their preferred houses of worship, public school students don’t meet that criterion.

“Public school children simply do not face the barriers to religious exercise that servicemembers, prisoners, and patients face,” read the letter. “Parents or guardians must have the right to choose the religious leaders who will influence their children’s spiritual journey. Public schools should not interfere or alter parental decisions in the realm of religious exercise or spiritual care.”

The letter was supported by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Interfaith Alliance, as well as the local advocacy group Texas Impact, reported Religion News Service.

Americans United has also objected to the scheme. In June, Americans United, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent letters to all public school districts in Texas, warning them that hiring chaplains could result in legal problems.

The organizations said they will closely monitor school boards’ implementation of the legislation and will “take any action that is necessary and appropriate to protect the rights of Texas children and their parents, who practice a wide array of faiths or none at all.”

Added the letter, “Families and students in Texas practice a wide variety of faiths, and many are nonreligious. All should feel welcome in public schools. Freedom of religion means that parents and faith communities — not government officials — have the right to direct their children’s religious education and development. We therefore urge you to reject any proposed policy that would allow chaplains in your schools.”   

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