A photo of Ryan Jayne

FFRF attorney’s op-ed in Oklahoma City paper challenges school chaplain bill

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FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne has had an op-ed published in Oklahoma’s main paper urging that a public school chaplain bill be voted down.

“Senate Bill 36 would permit chaplains to ‘provide support, services, and programs for students’ in public schools,” states his column in The Oklahoman about a measure that has already passed the House. “Unlike the qualified counselors they might replace, the chaplains would not be required to undergo certification by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. They would only have to pass a background check confirming they are not a sex offender.”

Jayne continues by pointing out the unconstitutional nature of the bill, including how legislators are putting their right to believe before the rights of students:

Notably, the bill has no safeguards against the fundamental constitutional violations it produces. 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 share their own beliefs to proselytize 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 SB 36 were to pass through both chambers, 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 schools are now voting on chaplain programs. Those who hire chaplains to religiously counsel students during the school day can look forward to lawsuits from students and parents represented by groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Jayne concludes with a strong message to legislators: “The Oklahoma Senate should outright reject this imprudent and unconstitutional bill. The Sooner State must 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.