Critics Attack Optional Chaplain Law

Student with Holy Bible
Student with Holy Bible | Image by Billion Photos/Shutterstock

SB 763 allows public schools to employ chaplains or accept them as volunteers to serve as counselors without requiring them to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.

This bill states that “[a] school district or open-enrollment charter school may employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain to provide support, services, and programs for students as assigned by the board of trustees of the district or the governing body of the school.”

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), explained his support for the law in a social media post, stating that it “will allow the important role chaplains serve for pastoral care and representing God’s presence within our public schools.”

While Middleton said he believes the bill benefits the public school system, not everyone feels the same way.

In late August, more than 100 Texas chaplains signed a letter addressed to school boards across the state, claiming the bill would violate religious freedom and strip funding from qualified mental health professionals, as reported by the Dallas Observer.

“Professional chaplains have specific education and expertise to fulfill our role in helping others engage their own religious practices and traditions. Typically, we are required to have a graduate theological degree and be supported by an approved organization connected to our spiritual tradition,” said the chaplains in the letter, as reported by KERA News.

“Our extensive training empowers us to follow the lead of the individuals seeking our spiritual care without imposing our own faith tradition upon them.”

The letter ended with the chaplains urging school boards to reject the employment of chaplains.

“We believe that families, not the government, are entrusted with their children’s spiritual development,” reads the letter.

On an individual level, Britt Luby, a Catholic hospital chaplain, has voiced her concerns, claiming the bill pushes a single religion on students.

“I am constantly learning from my friends who practice other religious traditions or people who aren’t religious at all. That all helps me be a better chaplain,” Luby said, according to the Observer.

“And I don’t want to see that richness go away because of some false idea that we’re a Christian nation,” Luby added.

Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), who authored the House version of the bill, addressed concerns like these and clarified that school boards will have the option of whether to implement these policies.

“I want to make sure that we’re making it clear — that everybody knows — that schools may choose to do this, or not, and that they can put whatever rules and regulations in place that they see fit,” Hefner said, per Spectrum News 1.

“I think, just to be blunt with you, we can trust the school boards to do that,” Hefner added.

SB 763 states that “Each board of trustees of a school district and each governing body of an open-enrollment charter school shall take a record vote not later than six months after the effective date of this Act on whether to adopt a policy authorizing a campus of the district or school to employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain.”

The provision allows each school district to decide whether the use of chaplains will be allowed for the schools within the district.

Dallas ISD, for instance, recently voted against allowing the hiring of chaplains, per KERA.

According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) latest accountability report for the district, only 43% of students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams during the 2021-2022 school year. The statewide average that school year was 48%. Additionally, almost 20% of the district’s graduating Class of 2022 did not earn a diploma in four years. The statewide on-time graduation rate was 90% that school year.

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