The End of Secular Education in Texas? Shocking Chaplain Bill Passes

A new bill was recently passed in the Texas Senate that would allow religious chaplains to work and provide support to students in public schools, raising concerns about the eroding separation between church and government in the southern US state.

The move comes in a flurry of attempts by conservative Texan lawmakers to push religion into public life, such as a bill requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments within their premises that recently failed.

Garnering 84 yes and 60 no votes in the Texas Senate a day after it was proposed, Senate Bill 763 permits public schools to use their emergency funds to hire unlicensed chaplains that take up mental health roles normally taken by a licensed counselor. The bill also allows volunteer chaplains to work in Texas public schools.

Several amendments to the bill, like requiring chaplains to be accredited similar to those working in prisons or the US military, preventing them from proselytizing, requiring parental consent before receiving counseling from a chaplain, and obliging schools to provide chaplains from any faith or denomination a child requests, were all defeated after negotiations between both houses of the Texas Legislature.

The bill’s author, Rep. Cole Hefner, clarified that local school boards and districts could set their own requirements for hiring school chaplains, but they are also free not to enact such requirements.

"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," Rep. Hefner said.

Conservative Christians argued that school chaplains would be crucial in helping solve issues among students like drug abuse, school shootings, and other societal problems by putting God back in schools.

They also tried to reassure the public and lawmakers that school chaplains would not be interested in proselytizing or forcing children to convert to a different religion or denomination. However, the head of the National School Chaplain Association, a key supporter of the bill, has once led a religious group that bragged about its ability to use school chaplains to evangelize children for decades.

In addition, opponents of this faith-driven legislation, which included Christian Democrats and some religious and interfaith groups, are concerned about the possible consequences of the bill, not just in the state of the separation between church and government in Texas but also the potential mental health repercussions the proposal might bring.

They’re also afraid that the bill might be a “Trojan horse” that religious activists can use to recruit kids in schools and worsen tensions in local school districts, which have the final say on whether chaplains would be allowed in schools.

Concerns were also aired about the adverse effects of the bill on Texas’ youth mental health crisis by giving students and children unproven, unscientific, and lightly supervised counseling that treats common mental health problems like anxiety and depression as “sins” that could be just prayed away.

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