FFRF joins other national groups in insisting Texas schools reject chaplains

Allowing chaplains in public schools would violate the state and U.S. constitutions, insists a letter that prominent national groups sent to Texas school boards and charter schools today.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent their letter following the passage of Senate Bill 763, which requires all school boards to vote on whether to adopt a policy to hire, or accept as volunteers, chaplains who will “provide support, services, and programs for students.” The civil liberties groups warned that they will closely monitor school boards’ implementation of the legislation and will take any action that is necessary and appropriate to protect the rights of Texas children and their parents to be free from government-imposed religion.

Although SB 763 purports to authorize public-school chaplains, today’s letter explains that permitting chaplains to assume official positions — whether paid or voluntary — in public schools will create an environment for religious coercion and indoctrination of students in violation of the First Amendment. And because chaplains are generally affiliated with specific religious denominations and traditions, in deciding which chaplains to hire, schools would inherently give unconstitutional preferences to particular faiths. For these reasons, courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to invite religious leaders onto campus to engage in religious activities, such as prayer and religious counseling, with students.

After sending the letter today, the civil liberties groups monitoring school boards’ responses to the new law issued the following statement:

“Allowing chaplains in public schools is unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees families and their chosen religious communities — not government-imposed religious leaders — the right to educate their children about matters of faith. 

Texas’ public schools are religiously diverse, and all students should feel safe and welcome in them. Opening the schoolhouse doors to chaplains would undermine this critical goal. We will not hesitate to defend the rights of students and families against school districts that take up the Legislature’s misguided and unlawful invitation to install clergy in official positions.”

FFRF points out in addition a fundamental flaw in the new measure.

“If chaplains want to serve as a public school counselor in Texas, they should have to meet the same rigorous requirements required of school counselors; Texas created those requirements for a reason,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Otherwise the state is setting up a sinecure for unqualified individuals simply because they are religious.”

 The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 41,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,700 members and a local chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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