FFRF attorney’s Ala. op-ed decries public school chaplains

Headshot for Ryan Jayne, FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel

FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne has crafted an op-ed for a major Alabama newspaper calling for a public-school chaplain bill in the state to be voted down.

“House Bill 59 would permit chaplains to ‘provide support, services, and programs for students’ in public schools,” he writes for the Montgomery Advertiser. “The chaplains, unlike the bona fide counselors they might replace, would not be required to undergo certification by the state Department of Education and would only have to pass a criminal background check. Notably, the bill has no safeguards against the fundamental constitutional violations it produces.”

Jayne further details the dangers of letting this bill be signed into law, and how the road ahead for the school chaplain movement will be fraught with litigation:

Public schools are not allowed to promote religion over nonreligion or to prefer one religion over another. Yet school officials could presumably choose to hire chaplains who are, say, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist proselytizing and counseling children of other religions or no religion during school hours. Religious instruction or counseling 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 59 were to pass, it would invite schools to launch headlong into costly, unwinnable lawsuits. We’re already seeing this play out in Texas, where a similar bill was passed last year and now school districts are voting on 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.

Chaplains in schools are being championed by the National School Chaplain Association. Its parent organization, Mission Generation Inc., has a goal to reach “the largest unreached people group inside of the schools around the world” in order to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus become 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 in order to “win” and “disciple” school-age children.

Jayne goes on: “Alabama state Rep. Mark Gidley, who introduced the bill early this year, wrongly claims that the ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the Constitution. Says Gidley, ‘It’s a talking point that has been used, that really does not exist in our Constitution.’ This is patently untrue, as the framers were first in history to adopt a godless Constitution whose only references to religion are exclusionary, such as barring religious tests for public office.”

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 me

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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