AUSTIN, Texas — Allowing chaplains in public schools would violate the state and U.S. constitutions, according to a letter sent to Texas school districts and charter schools today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

SB 763 requires all Texas school boards to vote on school chaplains policy

The letter follows the passage of Senate Bill No. 763, which requires all school boards to vote on whether to adopt a policy to hire, or accept as volunteers, chaplains who will “provide support, services, and programs for students.” The civil-liberties groups warned in their letter that 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 to be free from government-imposed religion.

Although SB No. 763 purports to authorize public-school chaplains, today’s letter informs districts that permitting chaplains to assume official positions – whether paid or voluntary – in public schools will lead to religious coercion and indoctrination of students in violation of the First Amendment. And because chaplains are generally affiliated with specific religious denominations and traditions, in deciding which chaplains to hire or accept, schools would inherently give unconstitutional preferences to particular faiths.

The letter further explains that courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to invite religious leaders onto campus to engage in religious activities, such as prayer and religious counseling, with students.

Laser: “Americans United is prepared to defend the separation of church and state.”

“Religious freedom requires that parents – not school officials or state legislatures – direct their children’s religious education,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Families should be able to trust that their children will not have a particular religious perspective forced on them while attending public schools. Replacing trained school counselors with religious chaplains violates the religious freedom of every student and family in Texas. Americans United is prepared to defend the separation of church and state and ensure Texas public schools are welcoming and inclusive for all students.”

The civil-liberties groups monitoring school boards’ responses to the new law issued the following statement:

Civil-liberties groups: “Allowing chaplains in public schools is unconstitutional.”

“Allowing chaplains in public schools is unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees families and their chosen religious communities – not government-imposed religious leaders – the right to educate their children about matters of faith.

“Texas’s public schools are religiously diverse, and all students should feel safe and welcome in them. Opening the schoolhouse doors to chaplains would undermine this critical goal. We will not hesitate to defend the rights of students and families against school districts that take up the Legislature’s misguided and unlawful invitation to install clergy in official positions.”

A copy of the letter is available here.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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