Texas legislative theocrats intent on forcing religion on public school students are clearly out of control, says the FFRF Action Fund. The Legislature has passed an outrageous bill to permit school districts to replace bona fide school counselors and social workers with unlicensed chaplains.
Further, the bill, which most certainly will be signed into law by Christian nationalist Gov. Greg Abbott, specifies that chaplains are explicitly not required to be certified by the Texas State Board of Educator Certification to perform the duties as school counselors or social workers. By contrast, school counselors must pass a school counselor certification exam, hold at least a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited institution of higher education, and have two creditable years of teaching experience as a classroom teacher.
Now, a chaplain, lacking the credentials of a school counselor or social worker, can perform these rigorous academic functions, simply on account of being religious. There is no definition or other requirements for this “chaplain,” who could be anyone a school agrees to give the title to. Since each denomination or even congregation has its own rules, this chaplain might not even have seminary training, much less bona fide counseling classes, actual degrees or experience. Clearly, the goal is to pack schools with individuals whose only qualification is that they are religious (and undoubtedly Christian).
The bill is an insidious scheme dreamed up by the National School Chaplain Association, which has announced a nationwide campaign to “provide” schools with Christian chaplains under the utterly phony auspices of lowering school violence. In fact, studies show that states and countries with less religion have less violence. The association fulsomely praised Texas state Sen. Mayes Middleton, the Texas bill sponsor, for being first to introduce a bill to employ chaplains in public schools.
As FFRF Action Fund and Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta have pointed out and as the Houston Chronicle documents, Texas schools have a dearth of mental health providers. Public schools serving 98 percent of students “did not meet the Texas Education Agency’s recommendation of one counselor per 250 students.” FFRF Action Fund testimony in the House companion bill highlighted the school counselor shortage, and the inadequate response that this bill seeks in response.
“Chaplains who are not certified as school counselors are not properly equipped to deal with the complex problems that arise in a public school setting,” states FFRF Action Fund State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley in the testimony. “School counselors in Texas must complete a series of rigorous requirements culminated by passing the [state] certification exam. Allowing a chaplain to bypass these requirements will be as much a disservice to students as it will be a danger to those in crisis who seek legitimate, professional counselors.”
The Houston Chronicle reports, “The state does not provide districts funding specifically earmarked for hiring these four positions [counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers]. Districts have to cobble together resources from federal, state and local revenue, as well as partnerships with philanthropic organizations.” This sorry state of affairs exists even though, as Mehta points out, Texas has a budget surplus of roughly $32.7 billion.
In other words, Texas archconservatives have cavalierly manufactured a crisis by dereliction of their duty to fund bona fide counselors and social workers, and now claim this crisis as an excuse to flood public schools with taxpaid proselytizers. Meanwhile, as this atrocious bill awaits the governor’s signature, FFRF Action Fund is watching to see whether an unconstitutional Ten Commandments bill that the Senate has already passed will clear the House Committee and pass a floor vote, as with a bill that will allow school districts to schedule “period of prayer and bible reading on each school day.”
That prayer bill is crafted to supposedly evade successful legal challenges by making students as young as 4 and 5 acknowledge they have a choice and no objection to participate in devotions, and that if they participate, they won’t sue! This bill and its intent to use public schools to inaugurate prayer and bible reading is blatantly unconstitutional under more than 60 years of firm Supreme Court precedent against indoctrination and religious rituals in the public schools. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which created FFRF Action Fund as a lobbying arm, has readied a lawsuit against the Ten Commandments bill, should it pass, and will seek plaintiffs if the prayer bill passes and is adopted by school districts.
“Instead of risking taxpayer dollars defending obviously unconstitutional bills in court, Texas lawmakers should focus on supporting quality public education for all Texas schoolchildren,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president.
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.