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FFRF attorney’s Kansas City Star op-ed takes apart state chaplain bill

FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne has authored an op-ed for the Kansas City Star forcefully urging that a public-school chaplain bill not be allowed to become law.

“Kansas House Bill 2732 would permit public schools to employ chaplains to ‘provide support, services and programs for students,’” Jayne writes. “Unlike the bona fide counselors they might replace, the chaplains, according to the bill’s language, would ‘not be required to obtain any form of teacher license issued by the state board of education.’ The only requirement for school chaplains would be to pass the same criminal background check required of all school employees.”

Jayne further comments on the unconstitutional nature of the bill, and the devastating consequences of legislative measures such as this:

Public schools are not allowed to promote religion over no religion, or to prefer one religion over another. Yet school officials could presumably choose to hire chaplains who are of their preferred denomination to proselytize and counsel children of other denominations, religions or no religion during school hours. Religious instruction has no place in our public schools, and students should not be made to feel disfavored or “othered” for not belonging to the same religion or church as school officials.

If HB 2732 were to pass, it would also invite schools to launch headlong into costly, unwinnable lawsuits. We’re already seeing this play out in Texas, where a similar bill — which acted as the framework for the Kansas chaplain bill — was passed last year and school districts are now voting on whether to commence chaplain programs. Those that hire chaplains to proselytize students during the school day can look forward to lawsuits from students and parents represented by groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nonprofit organization I represent that promotes the separation of church and state.

School chaplain programs are being championed by the National School Chaplain Association. Its parent organization, Mission Generation Inc., has a stated goal of “reaching the largest unreached people group inside of the public schools around the world“ in order to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus becomes well-known, and students develop a personal relationship with him.” In Mission Generation’s own words, the organization works to exploit the “massive lack of school counselors throughout public schools” by filling the void with religious chaplains to “win” and “disciple” school-age children. Notably, the bill’s sponsor said he would prefer school districts to follow chaplain guidelines provided by the National School Chaplain Association instead of the state board of education.

Jayne concludes: “The Kansas Legislature should outright reject this imprudent, unconstitutional bill and keep its public school system secular and inclusive of all students.”

You can read the full op-ed here.

This column is part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s initiative to engage with pertinent issues at the national and the state levels and spread the messages of freethought and nontheism to a broader audience.

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