AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 100 Texas chaplains issued a letter Tuesday urging school board members in the state to keep chaplains out of public schools.
The letter, organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Interfaith Alliance and Texas Impact, asks school board members to reject the opportunity to recruit government-approved chaplains to public schools to “provide support, services, and programs for students.” The opportunity is part of Senate Bill 763, which was passed by the Texas Legislature this year.
The bill is set to take effect on Sept. 1. The new law requires districts to vote on whether or not to create chaplaincy programs.
The chaplains who signed the letter said the chaplaincy programs are an “affront to the religious freedom rights of students and parents as well as church-state separation, and the programs would take funding away from trained mental health professionals who are better equipped to serve students.”
“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,” the letter read.
“As trained chaplains, we strongly caution against the government assertion of authority for the spiritual development and formation of our public school children,” the letter read in part. “Not only are chaplains serving in public schools likely to bring about conflict with the religious beliefs of parents, but chaplains serving in public schools would also amount to spiritual malpractice by the chaplains.”
They also expressed alarm the law doesn’t require chaplains to refrain from proselytizing — or attempting to convert someone from another religion — while at schools.
According to the letter, the law dictates salaries for school chaplains be drawn from funds designated “to improve school safety and security.” Those funds are directed at — but not limited to — restorative discipline and justice practices, mental and behavioral health support and suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.
The law does not require any specific training or qualifications for the chaplains to provide these services to students and allows a school district to give any employee or volunteer who can pass a background check the title of “chaplain,” according to the letter.
The ACLU of Texas also opposes the new law, with attorney David Donatti calling the replacement of licensed professionals a threat to student safety and education.
“The same Texas politicians trying to control what students think by banning books and censoring curricula now want to dictate what students worship,” Donatti said, “This bill is part of a coordinated campaign by conservative Christian-based organizations and their legislative champions to force state-sponsored religion into public schools without parental consent.”
Read the full letter from the chaplains here.