School Chaplains, Please No!


            Pearl River      Don’t ever ask yourself what they may come up with next. You may not want to know!

The latest from Christian nationalists that seems to be moving from the launching pad to someplace near you is school chaplains.  Who knew we needed such a thing in public schools?  Isn’t that why there are parochial schools when parents seek religious training and support for their children?

Well, not according to the Republican supermajority in Texas, which was the first state in the country to approve such legislation in 2023.   Monkey-see, monkey-do Florida and its governor Santis just signed a similar bill to allow chaplains in public schools in the sunshine state as well.  Similar legislation is being proposed or already introduced in the usual list of state suspects:  Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah.

The Florida legislation says that these chaplains are volunteers and pretends that they might provide spiritual counseling to students in their time of need.   As volunteers, they would not be required to undergo any training or certification before they are allowed in the schools.  Where have these Christian nationalists been in recent years?  Have they not read about the billions of dollars in settlements that the Catholic and other churches have had to pay, which bankrupted some of them, or the mess involving the Boy Scouts of America and its volunteers.  Florida and Texas may think of themselves as having deep pockets, but this just seems to be asking for trouble on some many levels.

One problem of course has to do with the separation of church and state.  The ACLU is clear that whether paid or volunteer this is no-go legally, as a pure and simple effort at religious indoctrination.  Many church leaders and chaplains’ associations have rallied to block these initiatives, convincing the largest 25 Texas schools districts to reject such chaplains.  DeSantis feeling the heat from the opposition “…emphasized that use of the chaplaincy program is up to each district and charter school board and that written consent from a parent or guardian will be required for a student to receive counseling from a school chaplain.”

The Baptist Joint Commission on Religious Liberty is one of the groups leading the opposition to this intrusion in public schools.  Their communications director, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons made their position clear:

“Florida’s school chaplain law ignores the religious freedom concerns raised by faith-based groups, civil rights groups and trained chaplains.  Any state considering school chaplain programs should listen to the more than 265 chaplains warning the nation that ‘we strongly caution against the government assertion of authority for the spiritual development and formation of our public school children. Families and religious institutions — not public-school officials — should direct the religious education of our children.’”

This is one program that needs to be nipped in the bud for a host of reasons.  Having state legislators shift the responsibility and potential liability to local school districts and school boards should allow some of them to buy a clue that this is a hot potato worth dropping outside of the school.  School board members and of course parents need to wise up when this number of wolves are trying on sheep’s clothing.