Fresno district nixes chaplaincy program (September 4, 2019)

The Fresno Unified School District has replaced an official school chaplaincy program with a secular alternative after a complaint from FFRF.

FFRF first contacted the district in June, after it was reported that the Fresno Unified School District had been operating a chaplaincy program in partnership with the Fresno Police Department and the Fresno Police Chaplaincy. According to records obtained, Fresno Unified School District was paying $65,000 a year to the Fresno Police Chaplaincy in order to bring chaplains into district elementary schools. These chaplains were tasked with “building character” in younger students and serving as “mentors.” An advertisement for the program boasted that it reached 2,100 first-grade students each week. The program was scheduled to run through 2022.

One of these chaplains described her experience with the program on the chaplaincy’s website: “My prayer is that God will continue to use me as a beacon of His light to the kiddos at Susan B. Anthony. God is able to take our ashes and turn them into something beautiful. I’m humbled and honored to be a chaplain to these children.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Robert Nelson in June urging the district to stop allowing chaplains access to its students.

The district and the Fresno Police Department have since partnered to establish the secular Resilience in Student Education (“RISE”) Mentorship Program, which will replace the School Chaplaincy Program.

“The RISE Mentorship Program will provide age-appropriate curriculum around resiliency, coping with bullying and impulse control,” Nelson writes to FFRF. “The lessons taught by the RISE Mentorship Program are completely secular and reflect approved curriculum aligned with the state’s and district’s course framework.”

FFRF applauds the district’s action in creating an inclusive program for its students of all faiths and none at all.

Freedom From Religion Foundation